Could New Zealanders win two classifications in the Tour de France? That is the question we find ourselves asking as we head to stage 17 of the Tour de France from La Mure to Serre-Chevalier. While George Bennett has been forced out of the Tour de France after succumbing to a nasty bout of sickness, the performances of Jack Bauer and Patrick Bevin now take centre stage.
Any success of an individual in the Tour de France has to be put down to the input of the team around them. Chris Froome has won three Tours de France not just on the back of his clear individual ability, but on the strength of a team devoted to him. He would be the first to say that his victory is a victory for his team; a team who give everything over three weeks to put him in the maillot jaune.
Taking that into account, should Marcel Kittel for Quick-Step Floors succeed in keeping hold of his green jersey; Jack Bauer will have the privilege of sharing in Kittel’s historic victory. But in order to get Kittel into green in Paris, Bauer and Quick-Step Floors will have to contend with the very serious threat posed by Sunweb and Michael Matthews. The Australian is the better climber of the two and now sits just 29 points away in the points classification. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matthews challenge for the intermediate sprint points in stage 17 either, which come after 47.5km of racing and once the field have already navigated the category 2 Col d’Ornon.
Stage 16’s climbs exposed Marcel Kittel’s human side and Jack Bauer’s strength as the German struggled to limit the time deficit even as Jack Bauer did everything he could to lead him across that gap. Eventually Kittel and the group around him sat up as Bauer joined Daniel Martin in the front of the race, in time to again show his strength and try and drag Martin across the gap to the leading group. In both cases his leaders faltered but Bauer did not, and I would expect Bauer’s role to be very prominent in the opening 50km or so for Kittel as Quick-Step Floors attempt to parry the advance of Michael Matthews.
As for Patrick Bevin, he and his Cannondale-Drapac team are faced with the possibility of the Tour de France’s highest prize. Rigoberto Uran has more than found a little resurgence in form, and of the three riders closest to Chris Froome in the overall standings I would pick Uran as the strongest against the clock. Uran begins stage 17 just 29 seconds back on the yellow jersey, and having begun the Tour de France with most thinking that maybe just a top ten finish might be good enough; Cannondale-Drapac have already exceeded all expectations.
Uran and Cannondale-Drapac will have to throw the kitchen sink at Team Sky, but so too will AG2R La Mondiale for Romain Bardet and Astana for Fabio Aru. This presents a seriously exciting prospect ahead as for the first time in what feels like a long time we have four riders all with a genuine shot at the race win; and with seconds separating them they will be looking to steal any march they can on their rivals. The three riders trailing Froome might also benefit if the likes of Simon Yates and Daniel Martin also launch attacks.
Oh the possibilities heading into stage 17 of the Tour de France! So much could happen, the excitement is palpable, and Patrick Bevin and Jack Bauer are right in the middle of it.
RoadCycling’s top 5 prediction for stage 17 is:
1st: Romain Bardet
2nd: Fabio Aru
3rd: Chris Froome
4th: Rigoberto Uran
5th: Daniel Martin