Primoz Roglic has won stage 17 of the Tour de France in style, after spending the day in the breakaway.  After crashing earlier in the stage, the Slovenian not only caught back up with the break but then attacked on the Galibier to solo to the win ahead of Rigoberto Uran and Chris Froome.

 

Disaster for Kittel in early crash

 

Stage 17 of the Tour de France from La Mure to Serre Chevalier took the field on a 183km ride and it would be a monstrous 183km, taking in four climbs.  First would come the cateogry 2 climb of the Col d’Ornon just before the intermediate sprint.  This would see the battle for the green jersey surely come to the fore once again, as Michael Matthews began the stage just 29 points behind Marcel Kittel.

The stage didn’t get off to the same intense start as we saw in stage 16, but it did get off to an alarming start for several riders.  With 20km of racing covered a mass pile up brought down several riders as attacks were being made off the front.  Patrick Bevin of Cannondale-Drapac was among them, so too Steve Cummings of Dimension Data,  Warren Barguil of Team Sunweb, Tony Martin of Katusha-Alpecin and also Marcel Kittel of Quick-Step Floors.

A number of riders had hit the deck, but most if not all of them had managed to get back up and continue on; including Bevin.  But Kittel was unfortunate not just that he’d broken a shoe and had to wait longer than most others to receive support, but also that in the break up ahead of him was Michael Matthews.  Matthews was in a strong group of 33 riders.  Included in the group alongside him were Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Esteban Chaves of Orica_SCOTT, Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel of Direct Energie, Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin of Lotto Soudal, Serge Pauwels of Dimension Data, Ben Swift of UAE Team Emirates, Cyril Gautier and Mathias Frank of AG2R La Mondiale.  With the pace in the peloton very relaxed – perhaps to allow Marcel Kittel the chance to catch up with the back end of the peloton – the break were free to build their advantage on the run in to the Col d’Ornon. 

 

Kittel drops out, Matthews virtually guaranteed green jersey win

 

Back down the road Marcel Kittel was receiving medical attention from the race doctor.  Credit to the German though, despite being battered and bruised he was able to get back on board with the peloton. At the top of the first climb of the day it was interesting and admirable to see Michael Matthews trying to limit Thomas De Gendt’s points tally at the top of the climb in service to his teammate Warren Barguil.  Behind Matthews and De Gendt the bunch arrived at the top of the climb 5 minutes behind the break, and clearly unthreatened by the presence of even Alberto Contador.

It was interesting to note that the rest of the breakaway were taking a very long time to reel in Matthews and De Gendt; and it became evident that the fight for first place across the intermediate sprint would be between these two.  At the sprint it was Matthews who won comfortably to move within 9 points of Marcel Kittel’s lead.  The rest of the break arrived 1.07mins behind the leaders, while Chris Froome continued to set a comfortable pace on the front of the peloton.

The first major climb saw Matthews and De Gendt lead the way on the Col de la Croix de Fer.  The climb was 24km in length and averaged 5.2% gradient.  The action was back in the peloton though as Nairo Quintana chose this as his launch pad to make an attack.  AG2R La Mondiale’s Pierre Latour chased Quintana, as did a rider from Astana, but for now the gap was being kept at a manageable gap by Team Sky and eventually Quintana was back in the pack.

Sadly though in the back end of the peloton Marcel Kittel was showing signs of struggle again.  The heavily bandaged green jersey was being dropped early.  Next to attack in the front of the peloton though was Alberto Contador, who had Nairo Quintana for company once again.  The pair began the stage 11th at 7.10mins and 10th at 6.16mins respectively; a dangerous move for the other top ten riders in the race; although potentially not for Chris Froome who seemed happy for the Spaniard and Colombian to go up the road.

 

Contador bridges to breakaway

 

It looked very much like Contador was the stronger of the two though and with the leaders left with 122km to race Contador was left out in front of the Colombian and all alone as Quintana dropped back.  Contador pressed on though, knowing that he’d have support if he could bridge the gap.  He was currently 3 minutes behind them, and though he was far from at his best in terms of form; he was more than capable of making it across.

Back in the peloton Jack Bauer was still present in the yellow jersey group, staying alongside teammate Daniel Martin, and hoping that today would be a far more favourable.  At this point all seemed calm in the group, with the GC contenders content to keep their powder dry before the final crunch points of the stage.  

Contador eventually had teammate Michael Gogl drop back to help him bridge the final gap to the large group.  Contador was now picking off riders who were being spat out the back of the breakaway group behind De Gendt and Matthews; who were still up the road.  Interestingly Esteban Chaves was one of these riders.  Once the catch to the group had been made Pantano led the way for his leader as they continued to pursue the leaders.  At the head of the race there was an addition to the leaders, with Daniel Navarro of Cofidis joining De Gendt and Matthews at the head of the break.

The Contador group were closing rapidly though, and with 3.5km to go to the top of the climb Michael Matthews dropped back from the front, leaving Navarro and De Gendt.  The pair would stay clear of the Contador group, with 27 seconds in hand of the group as they approached the top of the climb.  This time there was no contest from Navarro, and De Gendt collected maximum points on the top of the HC climb.  The gap to the peloton had closed to just under 3.30mins though, with the stage honours chances in favour of the Froome group at this stage with more than 100km still to ride.

 

Trek-Segafredo command breakaway

 

It was with 88.8km to go that De Gendt and Navarro were finally caught as Jarlinson Pantano was clearly putting in the hard yards as domestique for Contador.  Up next was the climb of the Col du Telegraphe but on the run in to the climb the bad news was confirmed that Marcel Kittel had been forced to abandon the Tour de France with the injuries sustained in the crash.  The Tour de France had lost another major figurehead in the sprints; although unlike Cavendish it was a figurehead that had shown his form several times in the Tour as he’d taken five stage wins.  In the battle for the green jersey it now meant that Michael Matthews needed only to stay upright and make all the time cuts to guarantee his victory overall in the points classification.

The gap between breakaway and bunch remained at the 3 minute mark as the break hit the slopes of the next climb, the Col du Telegraphe.  After his efforts on the front of the race Jarlinson Pantano now dropped back, although it was interesting that at this point the yellow jersey group were happy to let the break’s lead increase again.  Bauke Mollema now took over the pace setting for Contador  and set a pace that was strong enough to whittle down the group a little more.  At the top of the climb Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo took maximum points, ahead of Bauke Mollema and Serge Pauwels, while behind them Orica-SCOTT set the pace on the front of the race to try and limit the advantage of Contador over Simon Yates.

Impey led the peloton over the climb still at 3.40mins back.  In the break the race was just about ready to explode though as the Col du Galibier honed into view.  The Galibier would be the highest point in the Tour de France this year, and Primoz Roglic took the initiative in attacking the climb early.  He was joined by Contador and Pauwels who were initially reluctant to work with him.

 

GC riders attack Col du Galibier

 

As the maillot jaune group hit the lower slopes of the climb they too began to see riders drop off the pace.  Nairo Quintana dropped off the pace, while so too did several domestiques for the GC contenders.  But Team Sky still looked like a team in complete control of the race.  Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac was there but isolated, Romain Bardet was there but with only one rider for support, Fabio Aru was also losing assistance.  At this stage it looked like a customary Team Sky show as they led the GC riders who were now just a group of 15.

With 11km to the summit of the climb Darwin Atapuma of UAE Team Emirates and Mathias Frank of AG2R La Mondiale made the catch to the three leaders, who still had 3.12mins in hand on the yellow jersey group.  The cooperation in the lead group seemed to be questionable though and something had to give.  Eventually an attack from Serge Pauwels threatened what looked until then like a likely win for Contador.  Roglic took up the chase, but Pauwels still had a reasonable gap as Navarro found himself dropped again.  Gradually Roglic led the chase over to Pauwels, but Frank was now being put under pressure.  

Down the road Daniel Martin launched an attack, with 34.4km left for the leaders to race.  The yellow jersey group were 2.52mins behind the break, and Team Sky seemed happy to let Martin accelerate for a time.  At the same time Roglic made an attack that this time met with no response from Pauwels, Contador and co.  All the while there were still 5.8km of climbing to do.  Interestingly Team Sky’s Mikel Nieve dropped back before taking his turn at leading the yellow jersey group, and with Kwiatkowski finally dropping back it was just left to Mikel Landa and Chris Froome, with the GC contenders around them.

With about 5km to go to the summit of the climb Daniel Martin was reeled back in to the maillot jaune group.  Up ahead though Roglic looked like he’d struck gold, as he built a more commanding lead over Contador and co.  Darwin Atapuma had attacked and was now in lone pursuit of the Slovenian but at just under 300m behind.

 

Aru under pressure as Roglic solos away

 

Next to attack from the GC group was Romain Bardet.  Chris Froome immediately jumped across the gap with Rigoberto Uran in tow.  It was a good move from the Frenchman, who was unable to drop the yellow jersey; but his move immediately dropped Fabio Aru, Louis Meintjes and Simon Yates.  Eventually Damiano Caruso, Daniel Martin and Mikel Landa rejoined the yellow jersey group, and so too did Aru, Meintjes and Yates; but it was clear that a number of riders were nearing breaking point.  Sensing this Bardet attacked again, again dropping Aru.

Next to attack was Daniel Martin, and while gradually Fabio Aru was able to rejoin the group Simon Yates now found himself struggling and losing ground crucially to Louis Meintjes in the battle for the white jersey.  Again Martin decided to launch an attack, and again Fabio Aru was distanced with Barguil and Meintjes on his wheel.

With 2km to go to the top of the climb Roglic had 1.06mins in hand on Atapuma, 1.30mins on the Contador group and now 2.13mins on the group of the maillot jaune; with all of them within a kilometre of each other.  Eventually Aru was once again back on board with the yellow jersey and co; in time for Warren Barguil to launch another attack in pursuit of KOM points.  The lull in intensity in the yellow jersey group gradually allowed Simon Yates to regain contact with the group and defend his 3.58min lead in the young rider classification.  But as Landa increased the tempo again Yates again fell back.

As Roglic hit the steepest sections of the climb towards the top his lead over Atapuma was up to 1.22mins.  Contador and Frank had managed to drop Pauwels.  But as the yellow jersey group hit the steepest section Bardet again launched an attack, this time pursued by Uran, with Froome and Martin getting across.

 

Aru, Martin and Yates distanced as Bardet & Uran capitalise

 

Roglic reached the summit of the Galibier with 1.54mins in hand.  Behind him the GC challengers were again attacking each other, and again Fabio Aru was showing his weakness.  As they approached the summit of the climb Contador was caught and Barguil; who’d managed to withstand the attacks behind him took third place at the summit behind Atapuma.

But the descent was proving as interesting as the climb.  While Roglic flew down the descent, Atapuma was caught by an aggressive Barguil and Bardet, who put pressure on Daniel Martin.  The Irishman began to fall back, while Fabio Aru and Louis Meintjes were now 20 seconds behind.  In the yellow jersey group Mikel Landa was just about managing to maintain contact with the leaders.  Behind them Fabio Aru seemed to be closing as he joined the Daniel Martin group.

No one was catching Roglic though who maintained a 1.27min lead with 15km to go.  With the roads starting to open up as the descent continued to unfold, Uran, Bardet, Froome, Barguil and Landa entered team time trial mode as they looked to put real distance into Fabio Aru who began losing ground again along with Daniel Martin.

As Roglic went through 7km to go he held 1.25mins in hand over the Froome group, with Fabio Aru and Daniel Martin 35 seconds further adrift.  Simon Yates was losing significant time though, and while he would likely hold on to his white jersey it would be a great battle ahead between him and Meintjes. 

 

GC shake up as Roglic wins, Uran level with Bardet

 

With 2km left to race Roglic was staring at victory, with Froome, Bardet, Uran, Barguil and Landa at 1.18mins, while Aru, Martin and Contador were 2 minutes adrift.  Roglic could afford to enjoy his final kilometre, but instead he continued on in time trial mode; racing along at 50kph.  Finally as the Slovenian reached the finish line he was able to sit up and raise his arms aloft.  The LottoNL-Jumbo rider had given the team reason to smile after the heartbreak of losing George Bennett the day before.

Back up the road the battle for second place and the 6 second time bonus was hot.  Landa came through to lead out the sprint with Bardet, Uran and Froome in tow and Barguil fifth wheel.  Bardet hit for home strongly, with Uran and Froome coming towards the line and surrounding him, but it was Uran who had the pace to take second place ahead of Froome and Bardet.  The GC clock really started here as the nervous wait began to see how much time they’d taken out of Aru.  Uran led the group home 1.13mins behind Roglic.

Daniel Martin led home the next group on the road at 1.42mins behind Roglic with Aru and Contador there.  Simon Yates finally crossed the line 3.13mins back.

Overall the result meant that Chris Froome now held a 27 second lead over Rigoberto Uran in second place, with Romain Bardet 3rd at the same time as Uran.  Fabio Aru dropped from second to fourth place and now at 53 seconds behind yellow; while Mikel Landa sits in fifth place at 1.24mins.  Daniel Martin is now 6th at 2.37, Yates 7th at 4,07mins and Louis Meintjes 8th at 6.35mins ahead of Alberto Contador and Warren Barguil who broke into the top ten.

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