It was the second shortest stage of this year’s Tour de France at 108.5km, going over two HC climbs, a Cat 2 and finishing on the summit of a Cat 1. Sky controlled the peloton (seemingly even when they weren’t riding on the front) and, except for a few valiant efforts from Alejandro Valverde and Tom Dumoulin, the script seemed to have been written long before nearly an entire complement of Sky riders hit the base of the final climb. With the lesser of the GC riders getting shelled out the back and no domestiques left, Geraint Thomas attacked first with 6km to go, bridging first to Dumoulin then passing Mikel Nieve without a look back to take a solo stage win. Meanwhile Chris Froome went with Dan Martin, riding after his teammate – finishing third on the stage, after Dumoulin pipped him at the post. The day ended with Thomas in yellow, Froome in second (1.25 down) and Dumoulin in third (1.44) on GC.
Rider of the race
Alejandro Valverde made a rebel start – going off the front of the peloton halfway up the penultimate climb and bridging to his teammate Mark Soler, who had been in the day’s 30-man break. Soler worked his heart out for his teammate – who surely was just a decoy … I mean, I’m assuming there was a plan there for a Landa/Quintana attack later (which did not materialise) – and it looked like Valverde might stay away while Sky rode tempo.Embed from Getty Images
But it is Tom Dumoulin who garners the Rider of the Race accolade, for his audacious attack on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend, gaining a big gap with his teammate Soren Kragh Andersen. Dumoulin did what he does best – puts in some blistering attacks and then sets his pace and does not deviate from it. He even bridged to Soler and Valverde and there was hope that perhaps the quartet working together could shake Sky up. Alas, Soler was at the roadside in exhaustion almost immediately and after Andersen fell away a few kilometres later, Valverde didn’t ride with Dumoulin, but sat on his wheel.Embed from Getty Images
Big Tam must be pretty used to that kind of behaviour – it happens a lot with a lot of different riders on his wheel – but it was an opportunity missed for the two to work together and take some real time. (Again, this is why I’m thinking there must have been a Quintana plan … one that he seemed to conveniently forget.) Even though he got passed by Thomas and had Froome with him in the final hundred metres (brought into play by an attack from Dan Martin), I loved that he made sure he got second on the stage – he’s still in it to fight. Let’s hope some of the others will fight with him.
The tussle for yellow
Geraint Thomas is in yellow tonight but there’s a bit of speculation as to the plan when Michal Kwiatkowski and Egan Bernal finally dropped off, leaving Thomas and Froome by themselves on the final climb. As soon as it was just the duo, Thomas attacked like he’d just heard a starter gun and that was the last Froome saw of him until the warm-down bikes. Was he doing it because he didn’t want to hear team orders to ride for Froome? Would Froome have ridden for him? Was Froome chasing Thomas when he went with Dan Martin? Would he have passed Thomas if he’d have caught him? And the big question: if Thomas doesn’t have one of his ‘lose 20mins’ days and looks super strong from here to Paris, will Froome decide that a fifth TdF is worth riding against his teammate? Thomas himself seems to think this is fleeting so we’ll probably never even get to that point.
This is the summer of our discontent
Out of the small group of favourites still with Thomas and Froome near the end of the stage, Dan Martin was the only one willing or capable of making an attack that broke him (and ultimately Froome) away from the group. I love that he gave it his all, even though he must have wondered what could stop the Sky riders. But he’s a racer. That’s what racers do. He came in 6th on the stage, 27sec behind Thomas, 7sec from Froome and is 10th in the GC, down 3.16.
I can’t believe we fell for the ‘Nairo Quintana‘s in great shape and all attackity and proactive!’ narrative that has been going on since the Tour de Suisse. He didn’t attack. He doesn’t attack. He rides on the wheel and waits for someone to make a mistake. He hasn’t seemed to learn that Sky rarely make a mistake. And even if they do, there are about 50 of them on the front of the peloton so there’s always someone to pick up the pieces. But he doesn’t even try. I’m done with him as a rider. He finished 10th on the stage and is 9th in GC, down 3.16 from Thomas.
Vincenzo Nibali had a go on the penultimate climb, putting his wingman Franco Pelizotti on the front to up the pace, as he didn’t think Gianni Moscon‘s pedalling was hard enough on the front. I can’t believe he was doing that to try to drop Froome or Thomas, who still had a phalanx of helpers and didn’t look like there was an ounce of fatigue, but to thin out his rivals who might be thinking of a third step … Effectively, he gave the Sky riders a rest and they returned the favour by dropping him on the final climb. He finished 9th on the stage, is 4th in the GC at 2.14 down, 30sec away from 3rd place Tom Dumoulin.
The Jumbo Bees, however, were busy today. Primoz Roglic moved up to 5th place (2.23 down) and Steven Kruijswijk leapt to 6th from 12th in the GC. They’re riding a bit of a stealth race … perhaps this will work in their favour at some point?
One of the biggest casualties of today’s pace … Mark Cavendish. Full marks to him for finishing the stage, even though he knew he was well outside the time cut (as did Marcel Kittel). Hopefully he’ll be back in more fighting form next year for another tilt at the Merckx record of most stage wins.
But here’s a sprinter who is still in it. Andre Greipel rides on! Here’s hoping he gets a stage win before it’s over. Everyone in the gruppetto finished the stage in the time cut except for Cav, Kittel, and Mark Renshaw
1 Geraint Thomas (Sky) 3:29:36
2 Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) +0:20
3 Chris Froome (Sky) same time
4 Damiano Caruso (BMC) +0:22
5 Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) same time
GC Top 10
1 Geraint Thomas (Sky) 44:06:16
2 Chris Froome (Sky) +1.25
3 Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) +1.44
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +2.14
5 Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) +2.23
6 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +2.40
7 Mikel Landa (Movistar) +2.56
8 Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +2.58
9 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3.16
10 Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) same time
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Geraint Thomas (Sky)
Points jersey: Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe)
KOM jersey: Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)
Best young rider: Pierre Latour (Ag2r)
Most combative: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
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Header image: © GETTY/Velo/Tim de Waele