The 2017 Tour de France hasn’t even reached the Pyrenees or the Alps yet and already it’s given us plenty of decisive moments, drama and entertainment.
The prologue in Düsseldorf seems like ages ago, where the rain ended the race for Ion Izaguirre and Alejandro Valverde only minutes in to the Tour. But, the prologue couldn’t be more relevant today, time gaps determined there between Froome, Aru, Bardet and Uran have hardly changed. The story of the race has been less about the GC contenders and more about who has crashed out.
On the flats, Marcel Kittel has been unrivaled in sprint finishes. That’s likely due, in part, to one of the more dramatic and polarizing events in this Tour, Cavendish crashing out and Sagan being disqualified for causing it. The crash and DQ took two of the biggest names in the sport out of the crash, deprived viewers of a three weeks of wheelies and also erased from memory any questions about Froome’s prologue skinsuit. The only sprint Kittel couldn’t come away with went to Arnaud Démare.
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) July 4, 2017
The Twitter detectives were out to “solve” the Cavendish/Sagan crash:
— Luis Alcantarilla (@LuAl22) July 5, 2017
It’s worth noting that Kittel hasn’t just been good, he also has a little dash of luck. He won in Nuits Saint Georges by six millimetres, a mere pixel on the race video. Officials called it a “shadow.”
— Le Tour de France (@LeTour) July 7, 2017
If Kittel can make it through the mountains he won’t have to fear Démare taking anymore sprints from him though, as Démare, who dropped like a stone at about kilometer 0, failed to make the time cut in Stage 9 along with Trentin, Renshaw and a few others.
The Planche des Belles Filles was the first summit finish and Fabio Aru simply rode away with it with beautiful panache. He now sits 18 seconds behind Froome. The climb also slimmed down the list of GC contenders to Richie Porte, Dan Martin, Romain Bardet, Simon Yates and Rigoberto Uran, a narrow selection by just stage 5.
Saturday provided a very entertaining and nerve wracking day of racing. Lilian Calmejane’s stage win was not without drama. He got in the breakaway with help from team mates, and then dropped everyone including Warren Barguil, Nicolas Roche and Robert Gesink on the Lacets de Septmoncel. He maintained the lead with Robert Gesink in hot pursuit but then disaster struck, cramps. Calmejane sat up 5 kilometers from the finish in visible pain, you could actually see his calf muscle spasm. Sitting up almost instantly shed 10 seconds from his advantage over Gesink, it looked as though all was lost, but somehow he pulled it together and took the stage win. He even advanced his lead slightly over the final 5.
— CyclingCentral (@CyclingCentral) July 8, 2017
Sunday’s stage 9 was always going to be a big day, the return of the Mont du Chat preceded by the Col de la Biche and the Grand Colombier. Relentless attacks at the front of the race splintered the group and made for an exhausting day of viewing.
The social media drama of the day was Aru’s attack when Froome had a mechanical. Aru said he didn’t notice Froome; Froome said he didn’t notice Aru. My guess is they both want to talk with their bikes following the rest day. Regardless, the move was irrelevant to the race as Aru, Fuglsang and Froome later shared the work to bring back Bardet.
— ITV Cycling (@itvcycling) July 9, 2017
Payback from Froome?
— Lionel Birnie (@lionelbirnie) July 9, 2017
The largest impact of Stage 9 was undoubtedly Porte’s crash. A top contender for the yellow jersey is now in hospital. Descending is a weak point for Porte, but this was expected to cost him seconds, not a ride in an ambulance.
— Mike Mount (@mikeymount) July 9, 2017
This Getty photo of Richie Porte is incredible pic.twitter.com/gGzA9d879O
— Daniel Cherny 📰 (@DanielCherny) July 9, 2017
Was the descent too dangerous? No. It’s no more dangerous than many other mountain roads used in races, and Porte fell in a less technical portion of the descent. The climb and descent were even included in the Dauphiné for the express purpose of testing in competition.
The risk lies squarely with this race. The stakes are high. The average speeds have been insane all race. And all the GC contenders are climbing strong. If you all climb at the same speed, there’s only one place to take some time, the descent.
Stage 9 took other riders with it as well. Thomas is out again, he was taken out in Majka’s crash, a loss for Sky. He did enjoy a spell in yellow so he’ll still go home happy. Robert Gesink also crashed out, going from almost winning in Les Rousses to crashing the next day has to hurt.
Nairo Quintana is at risk of fading away entirely. This could be a real problem for the Giro as it’s another deterrent for anyone thinking about going for the double. It will only serve to reinforce the siloing of the Giro and the Tour.
Alberto Contador is also struggling. He simply can’t match the other GC contenders in a climbing contest. A stage win is probably the best he can hope for.
Which brings us finally to Chris Froome. The same old playbook is being used; take the lead on the first summit finish and hold it. But is it working? Sure Froome took yellow on Stage 5, but he was beaten on the summit finish and hasn’t shown that he’s the superior climber quite yet. Froome has lost Geraint Thomas as well. But is he beatable? Maybe, he’s certainly more fragile than in previous years but still firmly in command thanks to his prologue. Watch for some more shootouts between Aru and Froome and remember that through it all Froome always has the time trial in Marseille for insurance.