A week ago, on these pages a Tour de France preview was posted, just as crosswinds had wrought havoc and the Dutch Superstar Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Versa) had won a reduced sprint into Toulouse. Fast forward a few days, and whilst the yellow jersey remains the same, it feels like everything has changed in the stages since.
Since Stage 10: There was another sprint the day after, which saw Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) take his first victory at the Tour on Stage 11. That brought us into the Pyrenees, when Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won stage 12 in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, outsprinting Pello Bilbao (Astana Pro Team) and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) after the trio had emerged from an initial 42-man break group after attacking the final climb of Horquette d’Ancizan and distancing the rest of their escapees.
The contenders for the overall kept their powder dry but a deceptively testing time trial saw changes to the General Classification, when each man went deep against the clock and there was a surprise for the markets once again as Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) produced yet another incredible performance to win the 27.2km Pau time trial and extend his overall lead on Team Ineos’s Geraint Thomas, setting a time of 35:00 exactly, beating Thomas by 14 seconds.
There were strong performances from the likes of Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Groupama FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot who all limited their losses to less than 30 seconds, whilst Egan Bernal lost more than a minute to Thomas and the white jersey to Quick-Step’s Enric Mas, but he did better than Movistar duo Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana, UAE Emirates’ Dan Martin and Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale, all of whom lost a minute and more to Thomas. We also lost Wout Van Aert from the race who crashed hard when gunning for it late on a tight corner.
It was onto the Tourmalet for Stage 14, when the peloton drove hard and reeled in a break that always looked likely to be caught, and then Movistar began to take the leading group to pieces. That group was meant to include Nairo Quintana, but the Movistar man broke under the pressure, with even his dutiful teammate Marc Soler unable to bring him back to the front. Before even then Romain Bardet and Adam Yates had cracked on the Col du Soulour, and both would essentially see their challenges ended.
The infernal pace on the Tourmalet saw Dan Martin crack, and when Movistar stopped riding, FDJ’s David Gaudu stepped up the pace. This reeled in Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) who had initially attacked, and then dropped Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and also Enric Mas as about 10-15 men were left.
Barguil would eventually make it back, but the Jumbo-Visma pair of Laurens De Plus and George Bennett drove a strong pace saw Jakob Fulsgang (Astana) and then Geraint Thomas dropped, as Pinot burst away for a late win.
Alaphilippe took second, six seconds back, to defend his yellow jersey and extend his lead over Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos), who cracked in the final kilometre, finishing 36 seconds down. Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) was third, with Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora), Egan Bernal and Mikel Landa all had very strong performances.
It was then onto the Prat d’Albis, where a big break went with a lot of talent, and Simon Yates took a second win of the race, and a third for Mitchelton-Scott, but in behind Pinot took the headlines once again. When he made his big attack with 6 kilometers to go, only Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe could stay with him, and in the end Bernal was the only rider from the main group who could get anywhere close.
Pinot picked up Mikel Landa, who had gone earlier in the day, after relaying with teammates Sebastian Reichenbach and Rudy Molard, and took back chunks of time, but in behind things of even more consequence were happening as Alaphilippe struggled for the first time, and the trio of Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk and Richie Porte caught and passed him thanks in no small part to a back to form Wout Poels. Caught up yet?
The State Of Play:
The Top 20
1st Julian Alaphilippe Star Odds 9/2
2nd Geraint Thomas (10/3) +1:35
3rd Steven Kruijswijk (8/1) +1:47
4th Thibaut Pinot (5/4) +1:50
5th Egan Bernal (4/1) +2:02
6th Emmanuel Buchmann (14/1) +2:14
7th Mikel Landa (28/1) +4:54
8th Alejandro Valverde (150/1) +5:00
9th Rigoberto Uran (80/1) +5:33
10th Richie Porte (150/1) +6:00
Today’s Stage: Before we head to the Alps, we have what is called a transitional stage that takes us to the regular Tour finish of Gap, starting in Pont du Gard. It is likely to be a brutal day for all, thanks to the heatwave and the desperation of so many teams to make it into the break. With Jumbo-Visma having taken our stage wins, Deceuninck-Quickstep and Mitchelton-Scott with three each, and now two for Lotto-Soudal following Caleb Ewan yesterday, 15 teams haven’t had success so far and with Paris on Sunday and three Alpine Stages before then, this is the last realistic chance for many riders.
Astana have lost Jakob Fuglsang, who abandoned the Tour after a crash in the final 30km of stage 15, and their team has plenty of riders who can realistically target today’s stage. Alexey Lutsenko is one, and the national champion of Kazakhstan makes a lot of appeal when one looks at the profile of today’s stage. Lutsenko has the power to give himself a chance of making the move of the day, and should be suited by the 5.5km Col de la Sentinelle more than most in the field who make the move. Blessed with excellent descending ability and a strong sprint, he is one of a few from Astana who will have license to try and he appears to be stronger than Magnus Cort Nielsen, who is also a contender.
Greg Van Avermaet has been one of the race’s most consistent riders, and would be very deserving of a win. He finished fourth and fifth on the two very tough classics style stages that punctuated the first week and was even 11th on the Pyrenean stage that also included the Horquette d’Ancizan too. There are few faster sprinters left in the race and this is surely the last best chance he has to take a stage win.
Now for the overall:
TDF Yellow Jersey: The performances of Thibaut Pinot have been amazing in the Pyrenees and it’s understandable that he’s favourite, but a price of 5/4 appears to be very short, even allowing for the Alpine showdown that’s on the horizon. It reflects the fact that he’d be just short of yellow had he not lost that time in the crosswinds, but he still has 1:50 to make up and that will likely require three major attacks in succession on three days.
Geraint Thomas responded well to losing time on the Tourmalet with a solid, well-paced effort on Prat d’Albis, but he has lost over a minute to Pinot in a weekend and it could be that the time he missed in his preparation has cost him some fitness here. Egan Bernal has been the better climber of the two in the proper mountains and Thomas will at some point need to climb better if he is to win this Tour. Don’t rule it out, but he looks opposable.
Egan Bernal is just two minutes down on Alaphilippe, but we don’t know how Ineos will handle the race tactically and he’s behind Pinot, who had the jump on him over the weekend twice. The 22 year old looks a future Tour winner in waiting, but at just 4/1 doesn’t make a huge amount of appeal.
Julian Alaphilippe is 9/2 despite holding a 1:35 and upwards lead on the other main contenders, a price which perhaps looks a little too much into his Sunday exertions. He was second on the Tourmalet before that and it shouldn’t be assumed that he will crack automatically in the Alps. Emmanuel Buchmann has ridden a race of brilliant consistency so far and won’t be far away, but there’s no reason to change from our position on Steven Kruijswijk.
TDF King of the Mountains: A half-way house for our bets, as Egan Bernal has been there or thereabouts – but not as good as Pinot – whilst Guilio Ciccione doesn’t have the legs. Those who strongly fancy Pinot to take the yellow jersey are advised to consider the 15/8 for him here, along with the 4/1 on Simon Yates, a dual stage winner.
TDF Points Classification: Is Peter Sagan still standing? (Checks notes). Yes.
TDF Young Rider Classification: Enric Mas’s big time crack means Egan Bernal will win if he stands up.
TDF Team Classification: Movistar should take this home if nothing else.
PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 168.37 points
(excluding Ryan Sidebottom Ashes bet, Tour De France, Blue Horseshoe Open Preview)