Nairo Quintana has won stage 17 of the Tour de France.  The Colombian for Movistar took the win ahead of Dan Martin of UAE Team Emirates and Geraint Thomas of Team Sky, who cemented his status as leader of the team and the race.

 

Stage 17: RESULTS

 

Stage 17 of the Tour de France was the final major summit finish of this year’s race.  Though more mountains awaited for the race, this would be not just the the shortest of all the mountain stages, but arguably the most influential in the GC battle.  It was unprecedented in its nature with the race employing a Formula 1 grid-like format, with riders starting the stage according to rank; with the top ten on GC in a staggered start with Geraint Thomas at the very head of affairs.

 

Durasek the early strong man in unprecedented stage

 

There was no neutral zone in stage 17 and so at the drop of the flag attacks began as Team Sky progressively established themselves at the front of the race.  There was no room to warm up for the riders with any flat roads; and immediately the race went up on the climb of the Col de Peyresourde; which was part of the longer Montée de Peyragudes; a 14.9km introduction to the stage.

Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal was among the early aggressors, but it was Astana’s Tanel Kangert who was visibly strongest early on; unafraid to go solo up the climb.  Franco Pelizzotti of Bahrain Merida went off in pursuit, and so too the likes of Omar Fraile of Astana, Simon Geschke of Team Sunweb, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo and Rafal Majka of BORA-Hansgrohe.  Eventually Julian Alaphilippe also made a move out of the peloton, dancing across to the very large breakaway group; which was still a little way behind the most forefront leaders.

With 10km of the climb remaining the break’s lead had gone out to over 1 minute.  Nicholas Edet of Cofidis had joined Kangert at the front of the race, with the chasers almost 300m behind at 24 seconds.  Kangert was stronger of the two, though, and it wasn’t long before Edet was back among the chasers; who themselves were fragmenting as Alaphilippe attacked with Kristijan Durasek of UAE Team Emirates and Edet to try and get across before the summit of the climb.

Kangert would not be caught before the summit of the climb, however, and the Estonian took maximum points followed – a few seconds later – by Alaphilippe, Durasek and Edet.  Down the road as the gap stretched to upwards of 3 minutes for the peloton, Nairo Quintana had an early issue with what looked like a collision with a race barrier.  By the time Team Sky led the peloton over the summit the Colombian had rejoined the back of the pack though.

The second climb kicked off with roughly 38km to go.  By the time the foot of the climb had been reached Alaphilippe and Durasek had joined Kangert at the front of the race, while Luke Rowe continued to lead the way for Sky.  The climb of the Col de Val Louron-Azet was the shortest of the three big ascents at 7.4km; but it’s average gradient of 8.3% still rendered it a category 1 climb.  Before the climb Kangert led the trio through the intermediate sprint 3.27mins ahead of the pack.

Team Sky lead the GC group with Wout Poels, Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas on the front, photo Sirotti

Has Alaphilippe won the king of the mountains classification?

 

There was a notable change in the peloton as AG2R La Mondiale marshalled their troops at the front of the race on the foot of the second climb, with Movistar following them ahead of Team Sky.  Sylvain Dillier led the race and really put the field at full stretch; an indication that Romain Bardet meant business.  At the back of the race many riders were being shaken, but with 34km to go for the break Pierre Latour hit the front and launched a powerful attack with Bardet on his wheel.  While Team Sky were able to match that attack and so too Dan Martin and Darwin Atapuma of UAE Team Emirates, Latour’s primary white jersey rival – Guillaume Martin of Wanty-Groupe Gobert – was put under heavy pressure and began to crack.

Between the leading trio and the peloton BORA-Hansgrohe took charge of the pace-setting in the chase group, with Alejandro Valverde nestled in that group.  With 1km to go before the summit of the climb, the gap between the leaders and the chase group was still at around 47 seconds; and it was looking for Alaphilippe in his pursuit of maximum KOM points.  

2.13mins down the road Latour, after his big push on the front of the peloton, dropped towards the back of the group as Movistar took over on the front of the peloton.  As the summit of the climb neared with 300m to go Durasek was dropped and Alaphilippe crested the climb in the lead with Kangert in tow; claiming maximum points for the next climb.  Behind them Alejandro Valverde, Rafal Majka, Omar Fraille of Astana and Daniel Martinez of EF Education First-Drapac, crested the climb together and went in pursuit of the three riders still ahead.

 

Quintana and Martin strike for the stage

 

The intensity in the peloton was on, though, and the advantage for the escapees was down to a shade over 2 minutes as Marc Soler set a strong tempo on the front for Movistar.  They crested the climb at 2.05mins, and proceeded to tackle the descent; with the final climb kicking off with 16km to go.

At the bottom of the final climb of the Col du Portet; up to Saint-Lary-Soulan the break’s lead was 2.35mins over the peloton.  Alaphilippe sat up early as Kangert pushed on solo, a stage win unlikely but at least a most aggressive rider prize on the line.  In the chase group Alejandro Valverde showed his intent, quickly pushing the pace and putting Omar Fraile under pressure.

Back in the peloton on the lower slopes Marc Soler launched an attack and was chased by Jonathan Castroviejo, but Daniel Martin of UAE Team Emirates and Nairo Quintana then made an attack of their own.  The two got a gap on the peloton, but Quintana then quickly got a gap on Martin.  The two riders began the day 8th and 10th overall respectively at 4.23mins and 6.54mins to the yellow jersey.

Team Sky didn’t seem affected by the attack of Quintana and Martin, but when Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo attacked Chris Froome hit the gas, leaving Thomas and pursuing the rider who started 4th on GC.  Tom Dumoulin went on the defensive, taking it on himself to peg back the move as the time gap to the head of the race steadily dropped.  Eventually Roglic and Froome were brought back but the GC group had been fragmented radically to just Kruijswijk, Roglic, Bardet, Landa, Dumoulin, Froome, Thomas and Bernal.  With 11.5km to go for Kangert the gap to the GC riders was down to 1.50mins; with Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana in limbo between them.

Quintana had caught up with Valverde and the two of them pressed on, with Rafal Majka tryig to hold on.  At 10km to go they were 52 seconds behind Kangert, with Dan Martin at 1.08mins and the GC group at 1.30mins.  To Martin’s credit, although the stage was clearly out of reach if Quintana could keep up his efforts – which now saw Valverde finally dropped – making inroads in the GC was possible; and the Irishman dug in for the long haul.

Dion Smith (centre) climbs during stage 16 of the Tour de France, photo Sirotti

Bardet & Froome crack as Roglic rises up

 

With less than 9km to go Quintana and Majka caught Kangert and he was quickly dropped.  Daniel Martin was 19 seconds behind at 8km to go and persisting.  Quintana made light work of his companion, dropping Majka as Romain Bardet then cracked.  Out of the GC group Steven Kruijswijk launched the next attack as up ahead Quintana and Martin went under 5km to go.  Egan Bernal was still on hand for Sky with Froome and Thomas to try and bring the Dutchman back.

At 4km to go Quintana was 1.10mins up on the Thomas-Froome group, with Dan Martin just 25 seconds behind the Colombian.  Romain Bardet and Ilur Zakarin were looking to be joining forces behind the yellow jersey group as Bernal continued to lead for Sky.  With less than 3km to go though Roglic launched another attack and this time it was Chris Froome and Mikel Landa who went into the red zone.  Bernal, Thomas, Dumoulin and Kruijswijk were right there, but Froome had to dig deep to get across ad recover from the brief scare.

Next to attack was Dumoulin, with Thomas in tow.  This time Froome cracked once and for all along with Landa; while Bernal dropped back to support his teammate.  Dumoulin, Thomas, Roglic and Kruijswijk continued on, with LottoNL-Jumbo and Sunweb joining forces in an effort to gain time.  All Thomas needed to do was stay with his companions rather than attack, but then Roglic launched another attack and stretched the group still further as Kruisjwijk began to crack; and even Dumoulin began to look under pressure.

All this time Nairo Quintana was edging ever closer to a stage win, and it was nothing short of deserved.  He and Daniel Martin had been ahead of the race for much of the final climb, and the Colombian was set to win the stage – his first in five years – and ascend the GC standings.  He crossed the line with his arms aloft after averaging 27.6kph for the stage (18kph up the final climb) as Martin dug deep to secure second and gain some time in the GC battle and go up a place to 9th.  Dumoulin was digging deep in an effort to stay with Roglic and Thomas, but in the closing stages Thomas made an attack of his own to take third place and gain 5 more seconds over Roglic and Dumoulin.  

Kruijswijk finished 7th, with Egan Bernal and Chris Froome 7th and 8th; and Landa and Zakarin completing the top ten.  Froome had lost 43 seconds to Dumoulin and Roglic and dropped to third overall at 2.31mins; 32 seconds behind Dumoulin who was now 1.59mins behind Thomas.  Roglic moved to within 16 seconds of the podium behind Froome.

Jack Bauer crossed the line solo just ahead of Edward TheunsDion Smith finished the stage in a small group containing Simon Gerrans and Tom Scully crossed the line in the company of Degenkolb, De Gendt, Vanmarcke and Heinrich Haussler.

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