The final summit finish of the Tour de France didn’t quite deliver the fireworks we’d hoped for on the Izoard
Froome’s fourth Tour win within touching distance
The Brit went into Thursday’s final mountain stage with a 27-second advantage over Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet, and although Bardet was able to trim that slightly courtesy of four bonus seconds on the line, neither put in the big attack needed to take the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Chris Froome.
In fact it was Froome’s own attack which looked the strongest of the race, and he’ll certainly be confident going into Saturday’s crucial 22.5km time trial around the streets of Marseille, a discipline that he has historically been stronger in than either of his main rivals.
That means that Froome now looks set to win his third successive Tour de France and fourth in total, putting him just one win off Merckx, Anquetil, Hinault, and Indurain.
Romain Bardet unable to produce hoped-for attack
After failing to open any time gaps today, Romain Bardet won’t be fancying his chances of overturning a 24-second deficit to Froome in Marseille, especially as he’s only ever beaten the Team Sky rider once in a non-prologue time trial (at the 2015 Tour de Romandie where the gap between the two was only 10 seconds).
Bardet went into today’s stage saying that because he’s already finished second in the Tour in 2016, he wouldn’t be afraid to take a few risks in order to deliver France’s first yellow jersey since 1985.
Many took that to mean an attack on the Col de Vars, and such a move looked possible when Ag2r La Mondiale went to the front of the peloton on the early slopes of the climb. However no such attack came, and Ag2r ended up using up all their riders before handing over to Team Sky on the Izoard.
Eventually Bardet did attack, but his move was quickly closed down by Froome, who then went over the top in a counter-attack. Clearly Bardet simply didn’t have the legs to distance the Brit, but it was still disappointing not to see a longer-range attack.
Rigoberto Uran’s consistency gets him a podium spot
Proving that attacking riding isn’t a requirement to get on the Tour de France podium, Rigoberto Uran looks set to make it into then top three in Paris having hardly put his nose in the wind for three weeks.
Apparently riding for a podium spot and backing himself to overhaul Bardet in the time trial, Uran first locked himself onto the wheel of Froome as the yellow jersey shut down Bardet’s attack, before letting his French rival do much of the work to haul in Froome’s counter-attack.
To be fair to Uran, the Colombian is more than justified in playing it safe to secure his first podium finish in the Tour, a great result both for him personally and for the Cannondale-Drapac team which has enjoyed quite a turn around in the last couple of months after going more than two years without a WorldTour win.
Warren Barguil shows his potential yet again
If there’s one man who’s really made a name for himself on this Tour de France, it’s Warren Barguil, who not only picked up a second stage win but also confirmed his victory in the mountains classification and all but wrapped up a top 10 on GC.
Being no threat to the yellow jersey on GC may have helped him escape midway up the Col d’Izoard, but from there he put in a ride of the highest quality to chase down Darwin Atapuma and to hold off a charging Froome, Bardet, and Uran by a comfortable margin.
The 40 points he picked up on the Izoard also meant he secured the most comprehensive victory in the mountains classification, the first winner of that classification to get more than double his closest rival’s tally since 1995.
The only problem for Barguil is that Tom Dumoulin is expected to lead Sunweb’s Tour GC challenge in 2018, meaning he may be forced to consider his options for the future.
Michal Kwiatkowski’s domestique masterclass
Star domestique yet again, Michal Kwiatkowski put in another huge turn on the Col d’Izoard, setting a fierce pace to mercilessly close down attacks by Alberto Contador and Dan Martin, simultaneously putting Fabio Aru out of the back door.
The Pole moved to the front of the lead group As Barguil attacked with 7.5km to go, and stayed there for a good few kilometres, going so deep that he had to pull over and come to a half once he’d finished his turn.
Quite amazingly, he then managed to lose nearly 14 minutes in the final four kilometres, giving him a time on Strava which may even be challenged by a few amateurs from last week’s Etape du Tour.
And finally, well done to the lucky fan got a nice little souvenir when Kwiatkowski decided to throw his expensive Oakley sunglasses to the side of the road rather than waste energy putting them in his helmet or jersey pocket.