Tour de France 2017

Stage 21

Groenewegen goes swish from downtown, Greipel goes too late, and Froome goes to the top step.

💨💨💨 #tdf2017

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Dylan Groenewegen is highly regarded as an up and coming sprinter, but I don’t think many would have had him as a favourite to win on the Champs Elysées.

Went he went first, uphill into the wind, my reaction was “Groenewegen… TOO EARLY!” and he was fading on the line, but had done enough. 

Andre Greipel came hard and fast, but left his sprint too late, capping off a disappointing Tour for the Gorilla. 

Otherwise it was an entirely uneventful stage, and the jersey winners all got into Paris as planned. Chapeau to them and their teams. 

📸 PIC OF THE DAY 📸 Presented by @century21fr #TDF2017 #TDFCENTURY21 © A.S.O / @paulineballet

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🔴⚪️💛💚 #tdf2017

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Quand tu peux déjà apercevoir les Champs Élysées / Looking for the Champs Élysées 👀👀👀 #TDF2017 📷 PresseSports

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I’ll try to find time to write a full wrap up in the next few days, so stay tuned. 

Stage 20

Chris Froome seals his fourth Tour De France, while Maciej Bodnar wins the final time trial.

@chrisfroome will bring the yellow jersey in Paris for the 4th time #TDF2017 📷 @_alexbroadway_

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Rigo Uran managed to leap over Romain Bardet into second, while Bardet had to fight to the line to save his third place by a single second.

Until the end #TDF2017 📷@thomas_maheux

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Mikel Landa finished fourth and will be wondering what coulda, shoulda, woulda.

He didn’t win a stage, so how did Froome win? He took 51 seconds out of Uran in the Stage 1 TT, and 25 seconds in the Marseille TT, yet his overall winning margin was just 54 seconds. 

This is not a criticism: being able to time trial has always been a core skill of the GT winner: the great Miguel Indurain won five Tours by crushing everyone in the time trials and surviving in the mountains. Tom Dumoulin won the Giro this year in the same fashion.


Froome is a complete rider, with the strongest team, and he deserves this win. Nobody was able to take it from him. 

I think another difference is that he’s racing for first, and everyone else is happy with second.

His rivals are closer than ever though, and perhaps next year we can see Sky’s dominance challenged. Go Richie!

Meanwhile, Bodnar’s win is easily the biggest of his career. 

Bodnar takes the win in Marseille after a strong performance #TDF2017 📷

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Stage 19

Eddie’s back!

What a win by @edvaldbh, and what a photo of the moment by the Grubers! . #tdf2017 📸 @jeredgruber @ashleygruber

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He’s been close a few times in this Tour, including that loss to Marcel Kittel  in the closest photo finish ever*, but Eddie Boss finally snags the win Dimension Data desperately desired.

The rest of the peloton took a day off.

All good things come in threes on @letourdefrance 👊 @edvaldbh wins the stage 19! 🎉 #tdf2017 📸 ASO / A.Broadway

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* may not be the closest but it was damn close. 

Stage 18 

A fizzer on the Izoard, but Barguil adds to his and Sunweb’s amazing Tour.

Warren Barguil dedicated his victory to his grandparents who inspired him #TDF2017 @thomas_maheux

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Firstly, I confess I haven’t seen the stage in detail, because I’m on holiday and between the early flight and a day on planes with a toddler (mercifully, we both survived) I haven’t seen it all. 

👹👹👹👹👹👹 #TDF2017 @_alexbroadway_

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What I will say is that the stage wasn’t decisive in the general classification, and that we’re in the same place we’ve been for nearly three weeks, with the leaders separated more or less by their times on the prologue time trial. 

The Tour will be decided on Saturday in the second ITT, unless someone crashes. It isn’t over (flat tyres, crashes, or diarrhoea could yet intervene) but everyone thinks Froome has it on the bag, with Uran probably the most likely man to challenge. 

Uran has ridden defensively all Tour, countering but rarely attacking, perhaps saving energy for the TT of his life.

He is actually closer to Froome than he was in Dusseldorf, so perhaps if he had another three weeks he would be leading the race. 

We shall see. Froome is still the man to beat, according to most.

Warren Barguil was the man of the day though, and one of the men of the Tour. Two stage wins, and nearly a third (by a tyre’s width). The polka dot jersey. He’s in top ten on GC. And he’s ridden with panache, bringing some much-needed excitement and flair to a race dominated by a dour, clenched GC battle. 

Sunweb have a strong claim on being the best team in this race, but that’s one to discuss at the end of the weekend.

None of the contenders have been stronger than Froome, but neither have Bardet, Uran or Landa been weaker. Richie Porte must be kicking himself. 

Sky has protected Froome perfectly, but ultimately if you don’t have the legs, your team doesn’t matter, and Froome has been up to it. 

📸PIC OF THE DAY📸 presented by @Century21Fr #TDF2017 #TDFCENTURY21 © A.S.O / @paulineballet

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Stage 17 La Mure to Serre-Chevalier

Primoz Roglic covers himself in Alpine glory; the GC deck is shuffled; and disaster strikes the green jersey.

📸PIC OF THE DAY📸 presented by @Century21Fr #TDF2017 #TDFCENTURY21 © A.S.O / @JeredGruber

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Roglic, the former ski-jumper [#drink] from Slovenia, attacked from the break, dropping Alberto Contador before soloing the descent to the win.

A ski-jumper going downhill in the Alps, you say? Yes, and he’s also a bloody good time triallist (he won an ITT at the Giro in 2016, beating the likes of Cancellara, Dumoulin, Kueng and Van Emden) so once he was clear at the summit there was very little chance of bringing him back.

In the GC, the attacks flew thick and fast on the Galibier, the highest pass of this Tour, with Romain Bardet and Dan Martin particularly aggressive. Chris Froome was able to counter them all, but Fabio Aru suffered and was gapped at the summit.

Dan Martin also paid for his aggression and lost some time at the finish.

Nothing too catastrophic, but with the top five places so close it was enough to shuffle the cards, even if none were tossed out completely some are started to look dog-eared.

The day’s major disappointment struck early when the green jersey Marcel Kittel was forced to withdraw from the race after crashing.

When dreams are shattered so close to becoming reality #TDF2017

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It was one of those nothing crashes at the back of the peloton on a straight piece of flat road, but it caused carnage with bodies and bidons flying everywhere.

Crucially, it was enough to put Kittel out, and Michael Matthews into the green jersey.

This was not the way Matthews wanted to get the jersey, especially given the way he has been setting about winning it fair and square by hustling for intermediate sprint points and winning stages.

Matthews has been riding like a superhero, and today he executed his plan perfectly again. He got in the early break, then attacked out of that group on the Cat. 2 climb (also taking the KOM points at the summit) with the ubiquitous  Thomas ‘King of Breaks’ de Gendt, to ensure he picked up the maximum 20 green jersey points in the valley below, while the group behind him mopped up the rest.

This brought Matthews within 9 points of Kittel and with a feasible path to green in Paris. That calculation is now moot: Matthews just needs to keep it upright and he’ll be the first Aussie green jersey winner since Robbie McEwen in 2006, and the third ever (Baden Cooke is the other).

In the GC, it was handfuls of seconds each way, but the winners were Uran and Froome, who picked up 6 and 4 second time bonuses for finishing second and third.

Uran moves up two places into 2nd overall, on the same time as Romain Bardet but ahead on countback because he’s finished higher in more stages.

Losers were Fabio Aru (who drops to 4th and resembles a piece of overcooked spaghetti); Dan Martin who is riding well but still lost time; Contador who put in a massive attack but couldn’t make it stick, showing he is not the Pistolero of old; and Quintana, who dropped 6 minutes and looks utterly shagged.

Simon Yates dropped 90 seconds to Louis Meintjes but still has a healthy buffer in the white jersey competition.

Warren Barguil has cruised into the top ten, apparently by accident after hunting KOM points and stages all Tour.

With a big summit finish tonight at the Col d’Izoard, the situation is:

  1. Froome
  2. Uran at 27”
  3. Bardet at 27”
  4. Aru at 53”
  5. Landa at 1’24”
  6. Martin at 2’37”
  7. Yates at 4’07”
  8. Meintjes at 6’35”
  9. Contador at 7’45”
  10. Barguil at 8’52”

My read is that Froome is looking very strong, Uran and Bardet are fighting for second, Aru is virtually but not actually out of podium contention, and the rest are making up the numbers.

 

Stage 16 – Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère

Michael Matthews grabs his second stage after a masterclass from his Sunweb team, putting Quick-Step Floors on the canvas.

⚡️💥⚡️💥⚡️💥⚡️💥⚡️ #TDF2017 📷@jeredgruber

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Sunweb had two objectives today:

  • Help Michael Matthews pick up as many green jersey points as possible
  • Stop Marcel Kittel from getting any green jersey points.

Plan A was to get Matthews in the break, but Quick-Step was wise to this tactic and used Dan Martin to shadow him, meaning the GC teams were never going to let him go. Clever.

Plan B, then, was to put the whole Sunweb team to work, crank up the pace on the climbs, and simply blow Kittel out the back of the peloton and out of the stage. They were able to do this because Big, Handsome, Charming Marcel is Too Big To Climb, and the stage started with a climb and remained lumpy and windy, so Kittel’s elastic eventually snapped.

That was one objective met, but Matthews still needed to hold up his end of the deal. He executed to perfection, winning both the intermediate sprint and the stage, gaining the maximum 50 points available, while Kittel picked up nothing.

This is not to be sneezed at, with the likes of Eddie Boss, John Degenkolb and Greg Van Avermaet still in the lead bunch.

Kittel’s lead in the green jersey competition is now just 29 points. He is the hot favourite to win the sprint on the Champs Elysees on stage 21.

Matthews will aim to pick up intermediate sprints on stages 17, 18 and 19. Stage 19 (lumpy, with a late Cat.3 climb then a downhill run into the finish) may also be an opportunity for Matthews to pick up another stage, if things go perfectly for him.

There are 20 points on offer for an intermediate sprint or a win on a “hard” mountain stage, 30 for a stage win on a “medium” stage like today, and 50 for a stage win on a flat stage. This means it’s possible that Matthews could take the green jersey in the next two days by winning intermediate sprints, but the competition is now wide open and probably won’t be decided until Paris!

Meanwhile, in the GC, things got worse for Quick-Step when Dan Martin was caught behind a split in the peloton and lost 51″.

📸PIC OF THE DAY📸 presented by @Century21Fr #TDF2017 #TDFCENTURY21 © A.S.O / @JeredGruber

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It was one of those banana-skin days that strike terror into the hearts of the GC guys, with the cross winds and echelons (#drink!) causing splits and making it impossible to relax.

With Sunweb riding full gas all day, it was extra hard.

Unfortunately for Martin, despite riding for probably the best team in the world at riding in crosswinds, most of his teammates were behind him helping Marcel Kittel, and he was without Philippe Gilbert who withdrew from the race overnight, so although he wasn’t isolated he had less support than he might have.

Martin lost two places, which were filled by Mikel Landa and Simon Yates. Meintjes and Contador also lost time.

It was disaster for George Bennett, who had to withdraw due to illness. He was 12th on GC and on track to be NZ’s highest ever finisher. He’ll be back.

  1. Froome
  2. Aru at 18″
  3. Bardet at 23″
  4. Uran at 29″
  5. Landa at 1’17”
  6. Yates at 2’02”
  7. Martin at 2’03”
  8. Meintjes at 6’00”
  9. Caruso at 6’05”
  10. Quintana at 6’16”.

Anyone down to Martin is still in with a podium shot.

The race now heads into the Alps, and the next two stages will be extremely tasty. Worth staying up for!

Stage 15 – Laissac-Sévérac l’Église to Le Puy-en-Velay

Bauke Mollema wins his first Tour stage with a classy 29km solo attack, while Chris Froome survives a mechanical scare to maintain his lead.

Yesss!!! No words. So incredible happy!! #TourDeTFS #TDF2017

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Today’s finishing town is famous for its lentils, and Bauke Mollema set pulses racing [Groan… – Ed.] with a long effort to hold off some very good riders.

Lumpy, with a category 1 climb close enough to the finish, on paper the stage looked like one for a breakaway, and so it went.

And what a breakaway! A big group went clear with the likes of Warren Barguil (hunting KOM points to lock up the polka dot jersey), Michael Matthews (hunting sprint points to get within reach of Marcel Kittel’s lead) and Tony Martin (who had a crack at a 66km solo win but couldn’t get over the big climb in the lead).

If you’d asked me to name twenty riders most likely to win a stage out a of break, they were nearly all present in the big group. Apart from those mentioned above: Pinot, Benoot, Pauwels, Roche, Bakelants (sexist), Calmejane. Big names.

Mollema is a bookish and genial man who is good enough to contend for top five on the GC. This time last year he was in second overall, until he cracked in the mountains on Stage 19 and finished 11th. At this Tour, with the Giro in his legs (riding as Trek Segafredo leader he finished 7th) he is playing a different role, supporting Alberto Contador and hunting stages. He’s been in a few breaks without really coming close to a win.

He doesn’t win many races, and generally achieves his results through consistency rather than panache (harsher critics may even say he’s boring). Never likely to beat Barguil, Tony Gallopin or Diego Ulissi in a sprint, he needed to win solo, and so he pinned his ears back and went for it on the Col du Peyra Taillade, apparently averaging 47km/h for the last 30km. Certainly not boring!

Romain Bardet fever on his homeland. @romainbardet #TDF2017📸@jeredgruber

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Froome had a scare when he suffered a mechanical just before the day’s category 1 climb with 40km remaining. AG2R were driving on the front at the time, and Froome had a job of work [#Sherliggettisms #drink] to do to catch up on the climb. It could have been panic stations, but Sky had riders on hand to pace him through the field.

That’s what happens when you have a team budget the size of a small country.

As he rejoined, Bardet attacked, but Froome was able to follow and neutralise the danger. A real sign of strength from the defending champion.

The day’s winner on GC was Dan Martin, whose daring late attack earned him 14 seconds and one place.

The loser was Nairo Quintana, who dropped nearly 4 minutes to the other leaders, putting a decisive end to his GC campaign. BMC’s Damiano Caruso eases into the top 10 at Nairo’s expense.

Heading into the rest day, the GC still looks tighter than Tony Martin’s skinsuit:

  1. Froome
  2. Aru at 18″
  3. Bardet at 23″
  4. Uran at 29″
  5. Martin at 1’12”
  6. Landa at 1’17”
  7. Yates at 2’02”
  8. Meintjes at 5’09”
  9. Contador at 5’37”
  10. Damiano Caruso at 6’05”.

In the other jerseys, Warren Barguil has a massive lead in the polka dots and looks likely to hold it to Paris; Marcel Kittel’s lead in the green jersey competition has been whittled away by Michael Matthews, but he still looks in control barring Alpine disaster; and Simon Yates holds the white jersey by 3 minutes.

There was an impressive army of fans – of all varieties – for @warrenbarguil today (and every day). #tdf

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Stage 14 – Blagnac to Rodez

Michael Matthews goes BLING BLING BLING, and Aru loses yellow on the ramp to Rodez.

Yes, it’s Australia’s first stage win of this Tour, and what a brilliant win it was for Matthews and his Sunweb team (winners for the second day in a row), blasting past Philippe Gilbert and Greg van Avermaet with enough time to coast over the line.

This was pure class. PhilGil and GVA are the best of the best on these types of steep uphill finishes, but Matthews showed that he belongs in that top class.

I mean just look at this…

Bling!!! . . Matthews and Sunweb had earmarked stage 14 as a key opportunity from a long way out. Team sports director Luke Roberts told CyclingTips at the start of the day that almost all of the Sunweb line-up took it easy a stage earlier to ensure they’d be firing on all cylinders for stage 14. “This is one that we know is really suited to Michael, and we made sure we had the guys keep pretty quiet yesterday, other than Warren — Warren had a free role yesterday to go for it,” Roberts said. “The other guys stayed quiet and saved their legs for today. So we want to make sure Bling has a chance here to go for the win.” . Matthews said after the stage, “I think what we said in the meeting was pretty much exactly what we did in the race and I think that’s what it takes to win a stage of the Tour de France,” Matthews said. “You need a whole team to win a stage and I’m just super happy for all the efforts the guys did for me to be able to pull off a win like that. It makes it more special when you know that everyone has given you everything they have to deliver you in the best position possible …” . 📸 @kramon_velophoto

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Magnificent.

Matthews moved to Sunweb after clashing with Simon Gerrans at Orica-GreenEdge (now Orica-Scott), and now has an undisputed leader role.

The environment at Sunweb must be ecstatic at the moment, with Warren Barguil winning Stage 13 and wearing the polka dot jersey, and now Matthews picking up another win.

I should also note that another Aussie, Jay McCarthy of Bora-Hansgrohe, managed 5th on the stage. Great result for a guy who’s clearly on the up.

Meanwhile, behind Matthews the peloton was shattering into pieces, and despite what I said yesterday some important time gaps opened up.

 

The most significant loss was to Fabio Aru, who dropped 24″ to Chris Froome and slips out of the lead. He was struggling to hold position in the peloton before the final climb, and when the hammer went down in the final he was nowhere. When you’re not near the front in a finish like that, if someone in front of you sits up or can’t hold the wheels, time gaps can open up like sinkholes.

Rookie error, bad legs, or lack of support from his team?

This actually shows how impressive Froome was today. To be 7th on the stage, in the same time as big hitters like Gilbert and Eddie Boss, shows that he’s still got good legs, and his team did a great job positioning him for the finale.

The same is true for Dan Martin, who this sort of finish usually suits but has been struggling with a back injury from his crash a few days ago, and Rigo Uran.

Simon Yates and Romain Bardet lost 4″ to Froome; Mikel Landa lost 14″; Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and George Bennett lost 21″; Louis Meintjes was with Aru.

So the GC now looks like this:

  1. Froome
  2. Aru at 18″
  3. Bardet at 23″
  4. Uran at 29″
  5. Landa at 1’17”
  6. Martin at 1’26”
  7. Yates at 2’02”
  8. Quintana at 2’22”
  9. Meintjes at 5’09
  10. Contador at 5’37”

It’s tempting to say that Froome has a handy buffer, but with the top four all within 30 seconds it could all change so quickly.

Stage 13 – Saint-Girons to Foix

Warren Barguil a popular winner on Bastille Day, and what the hell is going on at Team Sky?

🇫🇷 Wawa powa! Warren Barguil takes the victory on Bastille Day 🇫🇷 #TDF2017 📷@paulineballet

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Another hectic day at the Tour. A short 101km mountain smashfest was designed to provoke aggression, and the riders delivered. The Vuelta has been running with this formula for years, and it works a treat.

Everyone is pleased for Barguil, who has ridden with panache and missed out on a win a few days ago by a tyre’s depth. That it happened on Bastille Day is even better for one of France’s most exciting young riders.

And yet the big talking point from today is the moving chess pieces and office politics happening at Team Sky.

Sky’s Mikel Landa was up the road attacking (with Alberto Contador, later joined by Nairo Quintana and Barguil) and getting close to virtual yellow jersey on the road, while yellow jersey Fabio Aru was isolated in a group with the main favourites, without teammates.

Chris Froome was in the Aru group with his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski. Conventional wisdom suggests that Sky’s best option was to sit back and let Aru flog himself to defend the race lead.

Instead, Froome sent Kwiatkowski on the the front of his group to chase his own teammate, which reduced Landa’s lead enough to protect Aru’s overall lead, and crucially also Froome’s second place.

To me, the only reason you would do that is if Froome sees Landa as more of a threat to his fourth Tour win than Fabio Aru.

Aru read the situation perfectly, bluffed that he wasn’t willing to chase, and had a relatively easy ride to the finish, only needing to mark attacks from Froome, Uran and Bardet, but not needing to also drive his group.

To me, that is a massive missed opportunity to make Aru suffer.

So has Landa gone rogue, or was he told to go up the road with Alberto Contador? Based on reports of a heated discussion with Sky DS Nico Portal after Stage 12, and the way Kwiatkowski chased him, I think it looks like Landa is dancing to his own tune.

What is clear is that Landa is in absolutely magnificent form, and if Sky hadn’t chased him down, he could well be in yellow right now. Even if not, it’s likely Sky would’ve had two riders in podium positions, and a more worn out Fabio Aru.

Disgraced former yellow jersey wearer Michael “The Chicken” Rasmussen called it:

Landa has been here before, in the 2015 Giro. Riding for Astana, he was involved in a very similar intra-team rivalry with one Fabio Aru. Ultimately Landa finished behind Aru in 3rd, but perhaps he’s decided that he’s had enough of putting his own goals second.

They know how to light up the show #TDF2017 @paulineballet

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I can only imagine the atmosphere on the Team Sky bus is pretty tense at the moment.

skyforcechoke

Yes, they now have two riders within striking distance of the race lead, but are they willing to push that advantage if it risks the ‘wrong’ Sky rider winning?

UPDATE: The Cycling Podcast interviewed Landa, Nico Portal and Dave Brailsford after the stage and it sounds like sending Landa up the road was planned. To paraphrase Brailsford, it’s important that their rival teams ‘perceive’ Landa as a credible threat. I completely agree that having Landa perceived as a threat would be a great tactical advantage – I just think that by chasing him down, Sky has reduced Landa’s threat level in terms of outright time and perception, by showing that they don’t really want him to win. That said, they are still clearly in the best position of all the big teams.

GC

The top 10 received a shake-up with Landa, Quintana and Contador all moving up places, at the expense of George Bennett and Mikel Nieve, who drop out of the top ten.

  1. Aru
  2. Froome at 6″
  3. Bardet at 25″
  4. Uran at 35″
  5. Landa at 1’09”
  6. Martin at 1’32”
  7. Yates at 2’04”
  8. Quintana at 2’07”
  9. Meintjes at 4’51”
  10. Contador at 5’22”.

Those time gaps in the top five are tiny, and everything is still to play for.

We’re now past the Pyrenees, and the next few days are unlikely to produce big time gaps (but who knows), so when we reach the Alps for Stages 17 (Col de la Croix de Fer and the monstrous Col du Galibier) and 18 (Col d’Izoard) the race will still be wide open.

Froome will feel that if he can avoid losing time in the Alps, he can win the tour in the Stage 20 time trial. But we’re a long way from that, yet.

 

Stage 12 – Pau to Peyragudes

Well, heck.

Chris Froome cracked in the final 500m, Fabio Aru snatched the yellow jersey, and Romain Bardet took the stage. Is this a sign of impending disaster for Team Sky, or merely a speed hump?

Yellow jersey for @fabioaru1 !!! #TDF2017 #astanaproteam #cycling #yellowjersey @bettiniphoto

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Meanwhile, over here on the Bardet Bandwagon things have gone bananas!

Bardet ✌🏻 Aru new 💛 📸ASO / @paulineballet

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Yes, the main drama happened in the final wall to the finish line, but it was a pulsating stage from start to finish. A killer break with some of the great escape artistes – Steve Cummings, Thomas de Gendt, Jack Bauer, Diego Ulissi and Stefan Kung, plus Michael Matthews hunting green jersey points – went clear, and Cummings was the last to survive.

Can someone please give @stevocummings a statue. On top of a mountain. In France. #TDF2017

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Behind him, Team Sky did its brutal industrial machine thing, driving the bunch and whittling the field down to an elite group by the Porte de Balès.

Kiryienka and then Kwiatkowski did some serious damage, and for the second time in this race Kwiatek almost caused Chris Froome to crash on a descent simply by being too awesome for his leader to follow.

Bizarrely, Froome’s rivals sat up to wait for him, even though it was clearly his mistake and not misfortune. Whether through fear of arousing The Wrath of Sky, or simply through caution, knowing what was still to come, I don’t know. Either way, a missed opportunity to inflict pain on the Brit, not to mention a ridiculous standard of sportsmanship to maintain.

It makes you wonder, if not when he’s overcooked a corner and ridden into someone’s caravan, when IS it ethical to attack the yellow jersey?

Leaders on their way to glory #TDF2017 @jeredgruber

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As a team, Team Sky rode incredibly today, but Mikel Landa, the Basque climber, who is rumoured to be moving to Movistar next season, looked phenomenal in the final kilometres. With the heads of state [#sherliggettisms #drink – Ed.]  gurning away on his wheel, Landa made it look effortless, shoulders rock solid and not even breathing hard.

Landa dropped his leader in the final few metres, which may be controversial, but by that stage there was nothing he could do to help Froome. He’s now up to 7th on GC, but nearly three minutes down.

Losing the jersey is not a disaster for Froomie, as he is only 6 seconds behind Aru and can expect to gain far more than that in the stage 20 time trial. But the intrigue is whether the manner of his collapse shows that he’s in the red, and vulnerable to more time losses if the others gang up on him. He has lacked punch at various times in this Tour, and in the Dauphinè as well. I think he is vulnerable to late attacks and losing time bonuses.

Stage 13 is a short, mountainous stage similar to what we often see in the Vuelta. Expect fireworks from the start, because there’s blood in the water. Can Astana put the boot onto Froome’s throat?

GC

  1. Aru
  2. Froome at 6″
  3. Bardet at 25″
  4. Uran at 55″
  5. Martin at 1’41”

Quintana and Contador both cracked again and can be written off. It’s now clear that everyone who rode for GC at the Giro is completely cooked (see also Pinot, Mollema, Rolland). Quintana’s ambition to win the Giro/Tour double will end by failing to win either, which should settle that argument for a few more years.

Jakob Fuglsang suffered terribly with his twice-fractured left arm and lost 27 minutes. I’ll be surprised if he starts tomorrow.

This Tour is well and truly alive.

Stage 11 – Eymet to Pau

Was it déjà vu all over again? Not quite, but the result looks the same. High five, Marcel Kittel!

Marcel Kittel makes it five! #BeardysTDF2017 #tdf2017 #TDF #marcelkittel @marcelkittel

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Stage 11 at least brought some excitement, when the last man in the day’s break, Maciej Bodnar, held off the bunch until a mere 250m from the finish. Until then it had been the usual formula:

  • underpowered small breakaway given permission to escape: tick
  • break contains a Wanty Groupe-Gobert rider: tick
  • break only given a short leash of ~3 minutes, which is not enough to make them a serious chance of stealing the stage: tick
  • peloton cruises along all day resting their legs, then reel the break back in just in time for the sprint: tick

Zzz..

The conservatism of teams in this Tour is starting to grate on me, if I’m honest. We saw the same negative racing style in the first ten days of the Giro, too, and to be honest it’s bloody boring. The smaller teams simply don’t think they’ve got a shot on such flat transitional stages – but where are the lumpy bits?! What about giving someone other than pure climbers and pure sprinters a sniff at a stage win?

Won’t somebody think of the all-rounders?

And why are teams without a sprinter, whose GC ambitions have fallen asunder (I’m looking at you BMC, Movistar, FDJ, UAE Emirates, Bahrain Merida, Dimension Data and Direct Energie) letting Quick-Step boss the race without even trying to fuck shit up?

At least today was a little bit tighter at the finish. It was agonising stuff for Peter Sagan’s top lieutenant, but you can’t accuse him off wasting a rare opportunity to ride for his own result.

Behind, Quick-Step Floors was setting up Marcel Kittel for another storming finish, but Michael Matthews managed to take some points with fourth place on the stage.

The green jersey looks virtually locked into Kittel’s broad shoulders at this point, but Matthews must continue to fight for points, just in case. You never know, Kittel could pull a Demare and flub the time cut.

If you want to know more about Big, Charming, Handsome Marcel, there’s a great interview from a couple of months ago with Orica-Scott pro (and Kittel’s former teammate) Mitch Docker over at Life in the Peloton.

In the GC, some minor accidents to Contador (is he still in the GC?) and Romain Bardet, but no changes to time.

The good news is that as we’ve arrived in Pau, the race enters the Pyrenees tomorrow. Battle resumes.

I’m feeling like the Bardet Bandwagon is the one for me.

BREAKING [stop it – Ed.] Jakob Fuglsang has two fractures in his wrist after falling in stage 11. He’s sitting 5th on GC and will start stage 12, but wow… that’s gonna hurt.

 

Stage 10 – Périgueux  to  Bergerac

Eins, zwei, drei, VIER! The only real question is “how many can Kittel win?”

Not even close. #tdf

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Yeah, he can win a couple more.

“I think [Kittel]’s another level, he’s the fastest sprinter on this Tour and you just can hope that he makes a mistake. Otherwise, no chance.”

That quote from Rudiger Selig, Team Bora-Handsgrohe, to the Cycling Podcast’s Lionel Birnie after finishing fourth on the stage, shows how his rivals are feeling.

Otherwise, a dull, slow stage with the peloton seemingly intent on pinching an extra rest day.

Today was pretty and fun – I felt like a tourist with a camera. I like it when I feel that way. #tdf

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Tonight is as flat as a pancake. The hot tip is for Kittel to bag his fünfte.

Stage 9 – Nantua to Chambéry

Devastation on the Mont du Chat.

Richie Porte is out of the Tour, and is recovering in hospital with a broken collarbone and fractured pelvis. Just minutes earlier he had shown he was one of the best in the race, having dropped all except for Froome, Uran and Fuglsang on the climb of Mont du Chat.

Now all is lost.

We knew this stage was likely to be decisive, but it exceeded expectations from gun to tape, a showdown for the GC and a thrilling test of wills for the stage win.

There was more action than the first day of a conference on Newtonian physics.

“Richie just lost it on one corner. It is so slippery,” Martin said after the stage. “I guess the organisers got what they wanted.

“I don’t think anybody wants to take risks down there. But it was so slippery under the trees. Richie just locked up his back wheel, went straight onto the grass, wiped out and then his bike just collected me. I had nowhere to go. I was very, very lucky to come away as lightly as I did, I think.” 

[Source: CyclingTips]

Martin was bloody lucky. Unable to avoid Porte, he somersaulted into a rock wall but somehow escaped relatively unharmed and was able to finish the stage.

Porte was not the only casualty. Twelve riders failed to finish due to crashes or the time cut.

Also out of the race are Geraint Thomas (2nd on GC), Robert Gesink, Arnaud Demare, Manuele Mori, Jos van Emden and Australian Mark Renshaw. Peter Sagan’s brother Juraj is also out, leaving the Tour completely Sagan-free.

The final twist of the knife came when Warren Barguil saluted for victory, was taken to the winner’s chair in tears of joy, only to find out that he’d been beaten by a tyre’s width by Rigo Uran.

Victoire au sprint pour Rigoberto Uran ! Uran wins stage 9️⃣ #TDF2017 📸 A.Broadway

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By that time I was emotionally bereft at the injustice of it all, but Barguil deserved the win, having ridden in the break for a long way, then courageously gone solo.

But Rigo “Mick [Jagger]” Uran also had to overcome adversity, riding the last few kilometres with a broken rear derailleur which meant he had to choose between a 39-11 gear and his 53-11 (top gear). Winding up a 53-11 after a day in the mountains isn’t easy, so chapeau to Rigo who is a classy rider and seems like a good bloke.

His Cannondale-Drapac team is also part-Aussie so maybe we can gain some satisfaction from that.

The GC has been shaken hard: two of the top 5 crashed out; Quintana, Contador and Yates cracked and lost time; Martin was caught in the Porte crash.

Kiwi George Bennett moves into the top 10 – his great season continues after winning the Tour of California.

  1. Froome
  2. Aru @ 18″
  3. Bardet @ 51″
  4. Uran @ 55″
  5. Fuglsang @ 1’37”
  6. Martin @ 1’44”
  7. Yates @ 2’02”
  8. Quintana @ 2’13”
  9. Landa @ 3’06”
  10. George Bennett @ 3’53”

Although Aru is close on time, I still feel that barring a crash or illness, this Tour is now Froome’s to lose.

The rivalry between the Brit and the Italian is also going feral: Aru attacked when Froome had a mechanical today, and Froome appeared to try to run Aru into the crowd in response.

Aru and Bardet do look the best of the rest, but neither is climbing as well as Froome, and he will massacre either in a time trial. 

Uran is close to Bardet, Fuglsang also looks strong. We will have to see how Dan Martin recovers after his crash today.

A rest day on Monday. We all need it.

Stage 8 – Dole to Station des Rousses

Action-packed! Thrilling! Chaotic! A stage flush with adjectives!

Lilian Calmejane wins with panache, despite a dramatic cramping episode, and takes the polka dot jersey as a bonus.

There was even some tongue-out action, as this is a contractual obligation for all Direct Energie riders when on television.

This was one hell of a stage. A huge breakaway of more than 50 riders went away, and was gradually whittled back to an elite group including Calmejane, Robert Gesink, Greg van Avermaet, Serge Pauwels, Nicolas Roche, Warren Barguil and Melburnian Simon Clarke.

The kind of stage where live-bloggers are working just as hard as the riders.

Meanwhile, Team Sky rode a superb tempo with its fleet of super-domestiques (Kiryienka, Kwiatkowski, Henao, Landa, Nieve, Thomas… I mean COME ON) and brought back all but two escapees by the finish.

Froome had one nervous moment when he and G. Thomas failed to follow Kwiatkowski (a brilliant descender who won his world championship by attacking downhill) around a corner and ran off onto the grass, but other than that it was all nailed down.

Nothing much happened in the GC, apart from a late dig from Dan Martin which was instantly shut down by Sky.

No, today was Lilian Calmejane’s day, the biggest of his young pro career. He took the stage, the KOM jersey, and the prize for most combative. And it nearly went so horribly wrong.

I know what it feels like to have everything cramp up at once during a race (spoiler: VERY BAD) so it was heart-in-mouth there for a bit, but he absolutely deserved the win.

📸 PIC OF THE DAY📸 presented by @century21fr #TDF2017 #TDFCENTURY21 ©A.S.O. / T. Maheux

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Get your #toursnacks ready for a big night on the couch on Sunday, the riders are saying it might decide the Tour.

Stage 9 features three HC-rated climbs, but it’s not a summit finish. I have a feeling it might be so hard it turns into an attritional slog, but that might still crack a contender or two, and you don’t want to miss it just in case.

Stage 7 – Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges

Holy St George’s Nuts*, Batman, that was close! Marcel Kittel wins his third stage, but only just.

Wow. 🔍🔍🔍📸A.S.O.

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It would be extremely difficult for a race to get any closer than that. 3/1000ths of a second the margin, or 6mm, allegedly the closest in Tour history.

To be honest, Kittel made a meal of this sprint. His Quick-Step Floors team finally got the lead-out right, but Kittel chose to follow Edvald Boasson-Hagen’s wheel (hereafter ‘Eddie Boss’) and managed to get himself boxed in between Alexander Kristoff and the barriers, unable to launch his sprint. 

Luckily for big, handsome, charming Marcel, when Kristoff launched he went to Eddie Boss’ left, Eddie’s momentum carried him left as the road bent to the right, and enough space opened up on the right for Kittel to slice through on the inside of the bend at the absolute last moment.

If Eddie had held his line, Kittel wouldn’t have been able to launch, and Eddie would be the one drinking champagne. C’est la vie. It isn’t easy at 70km/h.

Aussie Michael Matthews was third, which is an excellent result for him given that he’s not considered a ‘pure’ sprinter for the flat stages.

On paper, this looked like an easy stage. On paper!

On the road, a windy day made for a hard and nervous day in the bunch. A block headwind is one thing, but the likelihood of strong crosswinds is what really puts The Fear into the GC contenders and their directeurs sportif.

Crosswinds are an absolute bastard, because they lead to echelons, which often leads to splits in the bunch, and a real possibility of losing time on a flat stage. This is the sort of thing you see in the bleak spring classics like Gent-Wevelgem, but it has wrecked many a Tour de France campaign as well.

Echelons form because in a crosswind, the best place to be is diagonally behind the rider in front of you. So you get a diagonal line of riders across the road, but the road is only a few metres wide, and eventually you run out of road, and someone is unable to get protection from the wind and is busting a nut just to hold the wheel. If that rider drops the wheel, a gap can open incredibly quickly. The danger is especially high if the road changes direction suddenly (as it often does in French farmland).

This risk means that the whole bunch is paranoid about being caught behind a split, and spends the day fighting for position near the front, with the big rouleurs and the classics teams doing their best to protect their leaders while smashing the legs of everyone else’s. Quick-Step Floors, Lotto-Soudal, LottoNL-Jumbo and BMC are masters at this style of racing.

So speeds were high, and teams spent a lot of energy from a long way out, but it all stayed mostly together.

L'échappée dans les tournesols / The break in sunflowers #TDF2017 📸 @_alexbroadway_

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We’ll see how that pans out as the race heads into the Jura mountains on stage 8. Look for the likes of Pierre Rolland, Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema and Thomas Voeckler to attack tomorrow. They’re all good climbers and have been deliberately losing enough GC time to gain some freedom to get into the breaks. Perhaps some teams will have tired domestiques and won’t put the usual effort into chasing for the stage win.

No change today at the top of the GC, but Kittel has moved ahead of Arnaud Demare in the green jersey battle, sparing us the sight of Demare’s garishly painted green bike for a day at least.

@marcelkittel retrouve son maillot préféré 💚Kittel wears his favourite colour again. #TDF2017 📸 @paulineballet

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(* Yes, I know it doesn’t mean nuts).

Stage 6 – Vesoul  to  Troyes

Kittel wins.

@marcelkittel enjoying is second win of #TDF2017 ! What a champion ! 🇩🇪 @quickstep_team . #DigitalReporters

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This was one of those stages where it’s pretty safe to look away until the last 10km, but there was some mild excitement when the three-man break (Wanty – Groupe Gobert, Direct Energie and UAE represented) managed to stay away until 3km to go.

A lot of this to come today: wide open fields, big sky, stressful finish. #tdf

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It was never truly in doubt though, as the sprinters’ trains lined up for the kill.

FDJ, Lotto-Soudal, Katusha and Dimension Data were all in the mix.

FDJ had green jersey Arnaud Demare well positioned, but things got a little chaotic on the last bend and he was forced to dive a la Cavendish through a tiny gap against the right-hand barrier.

He got through cleanly, but Marcel Kittel picked the perfect line right up the centre of the road and despite coming from quite a long way back he was simply too powerful, blasting past Greipel and Kristoff.

What did we learn today? That Kittel is the best in flat sprints. Well, that’s nothing new, but his Quick-Step Floors team is functioning at less than 100% as a lead-out train. This is a consequence of the team’s goals being split between Kittel’s ambitions in the sprints, Dan Martin’s GC campaign, and stage hunters like Philippe Gilbert also being in the mix. The team is stacked with winners, and Kittel must share.

Fortunately he has managed to win two stages while more or less freelancing, and he’s a strong chance to win another tomorrow.

It is interesting in this tour that the sprint trains seem to be neutralising each other, leading to more chaotic sprinting. I wonder if we’re witnessing the beginnings of a change in the dominant pattern, back to the days before Cipollini and Zabel developed and perfected the modern lead-out train.

Nothing significant happened in the GC. Froome still sitting pretty.

Looking good, @chrisfroome!

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Stage 5 – Vittel to La Planche des Belles Filles

Fabio Aru leaps ahead of the big favourites to win the stage, and Froome is back in yellow. Again.

When Aru kicked, nobody followed, and he sprinted his way to glory, out of the saddle, back curved and rocking like a whippet humping a tricycle.

@fabioaru1 takes a look over his shoulder and realizes he's going to have plenty of time to savor this one. #tdf

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The stage to La Planche des Belles Filles was perfectly designed to open up the GC: a relatively short stage, not too hard, with a short, steep ramp to the finish that always seems to produce tantalising time gaps.

So it went today. An elite break of eight went up the road including birthday boy Philippe Gilbert, Thomas ‘#voecklersexface’ Voeckler, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Thomas De Gendt, and noted sexist Jan Bakelants.

Bizarrely, it was BMC that did the chasing, leaving most observers baffled. Usually bike racing is about saving energy until it’s needed, then throwing it out in great big buckets, all at once, when it matters. So why BMC decided to do Sky’s job and chase is a mystery.

The outcome was that Sky had a fresher team at the base of the final climb and put it to good use, shredding the peloton in their accustomed fashion.

This left an elite group of “heads of state” (#sherliggettisms #drink) to duke it out in the final kilometres, and gave us a great look at who’s got the best climbing legs.

Froome is now in yellow and although he rode defensively, managed to take a two-second time bonus and move further ahead of Porte.

The virtual GC now looks a lot more like the real GC.

Aru is the big winner. The 2015 Vuelta winner took his first Tour stage, 20” on the line and a time bonus. He moves to 3rd overall and looks in great form, but perhaps he’s fresh. The Tour was not his original Plan A, but he was forced to withdraw from the Giro with an injury, and he’s missed a lot of racing. There are questions about how he’ll be in the third week. We know he can climb with the best, and as a grand tour winner he deserves respect, but there’s also his TT ability to overcome.

Dan Martin also profited by dropping Froome and Porte to take 2nd on the stage and a time bonus. He moves to 4th overall and looks in top form, albeit he had to work for it.

An exhausted @DanMartin86 at the finish after an all-out effort on the explosive Planche des Belles Filles. #TDF2017 #WayToRide #proud

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Porte moved up places and was aggressive but wasn’t able to make any impact on Froome. He did put Quintana and Contador on the ropes, though.

It could have been worse for Quintana, Contador, Bardet and Yates, who were all dropped when Porte attacked but managed to limit their losses to a handful of seconds. Of these, Bardet looks the best but Quintana and Contador both had a jour sans.

Betancur, Chaves, Talansky, Fuglsang all lost time and are falling out of podium reckoning.

Pinot and Gesink have plummeted down the GC and look primed to attack a stage win, as does Bauke Mollema.

We now have two flat transition stages. Without Cavendish, Sagan and with John Degenkolb heavily bandaged it’s opportunity time for Kittel, Demare, Bouhanni and Kristoff.

Meanwhile, Porte can resume stalking Froome on stage 8, as the race enters the Jura mountains.

Stage 4 – Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel

Well, that was loose. French national champion Arnaud Demare wins what should have been a regulation sprint stage, but the result is completely overshadowed by the commissaires’ decision to boot Peter Sagan out of the Tour for squeezing Mark Cavendish into the barriers in the finale.

Un sprint mouvementé / An animated sprint #TDF2017 © A.S.O. / @jeredgruber

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That elbow tells the story. In the race judges view, it showed that Sagan had committed an act of deliberate violence, worthy of disqualification.

Not everyone agrees with this view, as video replays are somewhat inconclusive as to whether the elbow caused the crash, or whether the elbow was a response to Sagan being nudged off-balance by earlier contact.

Caley Fretz at Velonews is of the view that the judges made the wrong call.

Clearly, Sagan closed the door on Cav (who is no angel in the sprint himself), but was the contact enough to disqualify the world champion, or would a relegation from the sprint have been penalty enough?

Former sprinter Robbie McEwen reckons the crime doesn’t merit the time (at home):

What do I think? Well, I’ve definitely seen worse. I think Cav was trying to go through a gap that wasn’t there, and he knew the risks. I think disqualification was too much.

What is clear is that the Tour is now without its biggest star, and it was all so unnecessary! Reduced bunch, wide and straight road, plenty of room for everyone. Absolutely no need to sprint like Abdoujaparov.

As for Demare, it’s his first stage win at any Grand Tour, although arguably not his biggest career win (he won Milan-San Remo in 2016). He definitely benefited from the Cavendish/Sagan incident, but also from an earlier crash that took most of the peloton out of contention for the stage (including Marcel Kittel who was lingering about 30 riders back).

Arnaud Démare wins his 1st stage on @letourdefrance / Démare remporte sa 1ère étape du Tour #TDF2017

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The crash came in the last 3km meaning GC times were neutralised and there are no changes to our virtual GC, but it meant the riders arrived in dribs and drabs looking like refugees from the world’s most expensive Gran Fondo.

Tomorrow we go into the mountains, with a Category 1 summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles, it’s the first real opportunity for the GC contenders to start throwing elbows…. wait, no.

Stage 3 – Verviers to Longwy

A fantastic stage visiting three countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and France) with a thrilling uphill finish in the style of an Ardennes classic. Peter Sagan triumphs.

Peter Sagan, powering to the line. #TDF2017 @jeredgruber

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This was a stage for the classics stars, the men who smash each other over the cobbles of Flanders and the hills ofthe Ardennes every spring – think Fleche Wallone, Amstel Gold, Liege-Bastogne-Liege or even the beautiful race in Italy, Strada Bianche.

Longwy doesn’t have the same ring of history as Liege, the Paterberg, the Mur de Huy or the Cauberg, but the Tour is the Tour, as they say, so we were treated to all of the classics kings at once, with the GC contenders thrown into the mix as well. Tasty!

Rock Star #TDF2017 @paulineballet

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Sagan is a master at these uphill sprints – this stage seemed tailor-made for the world champion – but Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet, Aussie Michael Matthews, Tour of Flanders winner Philippe Gilbert, former world champ Michal Kwiatkowski, L-B-L and Lombardia winner Daniel Martin or even the likes of Swiss Orica-Scott puncheur Michael Albasini were the top favourites.

So it turned out, with all the classics hardmen in position, and with Richie Porte on the attack under the kilometre to go banner (perhaps he was playing decoy for his teammate van Avermaet, who had arrived on the front too early, or perhaps he just wanted to give it a shake).

Sagan calmly reeled Porte in, before launching a looooong sprint from the front, holding off a fast-closing Matthews and a fading Dan Martin. THRILLER!

Remember the old meme of Sagan constantly finishing second? Long since put to bed. Sagan no longer races like an outrageously talented puppy, leaping at everything. He’s improved his tactical nous, he has a stronger team built around him (they controlled the race for most of the day), and he’s now very, very hard to beat on these finishes that are too hard for the pure sprinters like Kittel, Cavendish and Greipel.

In the virtual GC we had some surprise movement, as gaps formed in the peloton in the finish and a couple of favourites bombed out. Still, most of the big favourites (Thomas, Froome, Porte, Aru, Contador, Chaves, Fuglsang, Quintana, Majka, Bardet) were on point and in the top 20 on the stage:

  • Dan Martin picked up 2″ on the line and a 4″ time bonus
  • Thibaut Pinot dropped 3’05” and Robert Gesink dropped 3’14” – both bow out of GC podium reckoning
  • Simon Yates dropped 8″ to Froome
  • Andrew Talansky dropped 23″
Contender GC after Stage 3 – gap to Froome
Geraint Thomas -12
Chris Froome 0
Dan Martin 31
Simon Yates 33
Richie Porte 35
Nairo Quintana 36
Rafal Majka 37
Romain Bardet 39
Fabio Aru 40
Alberto Contador 42
Carlos Betancur 42
Jakob Fuglsang 42
Rigoberto Uran 51
Andrew Talansky 60
Esteban Chaves 61
Robert Gesink 213
Thibaut Pinot 223

I’ll leave you with another classic Peter Sagan moment:

Stage 2 – Düsseldorf to Liège

A formulaic sprint stage in one of cycling’s great cities produces an emotional win for Marcel Kittel.

SuperKittel #TDF2017 📸 © A.S.O. / Thomas Maheux

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No changes on virtual GC, but a crash scare for Froome, Thomas, Porte and Bardet.

Kittel showed he is still the man to beat in a drag race to the line, coming off the wheel of Sonny Colbrelli to win ahead of Arnaud Demare, Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish.

A breakaway composed of pro continental (second division) riders and the pro peloton’s alpha hipster Taylor “I was sort of half like, ‘Yo, bro, I’m naked. But also, I’m listening.’”

Phinney was always kept in check, and the sprinters’ teams made the perfect catch just 1km from the finish.

Froome, Porte, Bardet and Gesink were among the riders caught in a crash with 29km to go, when a Katusha rider near the front lost his front wheel on some wet road and slid through the peloton like a bowling ball.

No major damage that anyone is admitting to, but a reminder that anything can happen, and that being tucked in at the front isn’t always enough to guarantee safety.

Kittel’s win carried extra meaning as the reconciliation of pro cycling in the eyes of Germany continued. While the victory didn’t come on German soil, much of the stage was ridden in Kittel’s homeland and the crowds lining the route were testament to the recovery of public trust that was shattered more than a decade ago by doping scandals hitting German heroes like Jan Ullrich, Erik Zabel and the entire Telekom/T-Mobile team.

The impact of the old doping scandals was so strong that the Tour was not shown on German TV for a decade despite the performances of a (relatively) new generation of highly marketable German stars including Kittel, John Degenkolb, Andre Greipel and Tony Martin.

Kittel (who has always been very forthright in his anti-doping stance) and Degenkolb literally pleaded their case to German TV execs to get cycling back on the air, so to win a stage with a foot in Germany is special for big, handsome, charming Kittel.

He pulls on the green jersey and with time bonuses on offer over the next two days is in striking distance of the yellow jersey.

Meanwhile at the back of the peloton, the race to lose time and earn the freedom to get in the break has begun.

Likeable Aussie rouleur Luke Durbridge was forced to abandon after crashing hard in the prologue and damaging his ankle. Huge shame for him and Orica-Scott.

Stage 1 prologue – Düsseldorf

So, Froome already has a handy advantage over all of his main GC rivals.

@letourdefrance Fever 😍 #TDF2017

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He’s at 12″ from the yellow jersey and in the virtual lead (none of the guys ahead of him are GC contenders, partly because half of them are his teammates).

Of the predicted GC contenders, most are clustered together between 35-42 seconds behind Froome. After stage 1 the score in my virtual GC looks like this:

Froome

Robert Gesink @ 19″ to Froome

Simon Yates @ 25″

Richie Porte @ 35″

Nairo Quintana @ 36″

Rafal Majka @ 37″

Andrew Talansky @ 37″

Dan Martin @ 37″

Thibaut Pinot @ 38″

Romain Bardet @39″

Fabio Aru @ 40″

Alberto Contador @ 42″

Carlos Betancur @ 42″

Jakob Fuglsang @ 42″

Rigoberto Uran @ 51″

Esteban Chaves @ 61″

So you can see that Froome pulled one out of the box.

chart (1)

I think the time gap says more about Froome’s (and Sky’s) mindset than anybody’s legs.

Porte has admitted his main priority was staying upright after seeing his teammate Nico Roche “binning it”, and the crash that probably ended Valverde’s season shows exactly what was at stake.

Chaves has also more or less said he was shitting himself in the wet.

Riding time trial bikes in the wet, with lots of corners and paint on the road, is a deeply unpleasant experience. They corner like shopping trolleys at the best of times, and in the prevailing conditions it made sense for most to play it safe.

That Froome took it on suggests that he’s not going to play this Tour defensively. His lead could evaporate quickly if his form from the Dauphine hasn’t improved, but stage 1 shows he’s psychologically at peak form, and so is his team.

I’m including Chaves in my list of GC favs, but I don’t think he’s a real contender this year, as he’s been carrying a knee injury all season and has barely raced. We’ll see how his form is after a training camp in Colombia but I feel like this year is more about the experience of racing the Tour, and see what happens.

Aru is in a similar situation, after missing his Giro d’Italia leader role due to injury he will be raring to go, but light on race days.

Betancur makes the list on X-factor. Over the years he’s shown he has the talent to do anything, but not the discipline. But he looks super fit and lean, and given he’s won some major races while looking like a C grader, he might surprise a few and win a stage or be top 10.

Gesink is another dark horse. He hasn’t really delivered on his promise for a variety of reasons but I think he’s a top ten chance.

I expect Nairo Quintana & Pinot Thibaut to be thereabouts but the Giro d’Italia was brutal. Pinot was brilliant in Italy, and Nairo seemed… flat. Either way, I think having such a race in their legs will make it too hard for them to win unless Froome, Porte and Bardet run into difficulties.

Nairo had a good TT to be that close to Porte, but I think it shows how cautiously Richie rode.

I’ll update this post daily to show how the time gaps are changing, but we have three flat stages ahead so unless someone flats, crashes or grabs a time bonus there won’t be much movement on the GC until Wednesday’s summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Seven ways to ruin the Olympic road race

It’s one morning into Channel 7’s coverage of #Rio2016 and I’m already bloody furious!

The men’s road race was on last night, undoubtedly one of the races of the year, and apparently an absolute ripper. I missed it.

I saw the first part of the race, which was fine, but at 1am and with 3 hours more racing ahead, I had to give in to sleep, making sure to hit record on the PVR before I went. You see, we have a baby and she doesn’t understand Olympic sport or timezones.

This morning I jumped out of bed, ran to my TV while carefully avoiding looking at my phone (spoilers), then got stuck into it.

It was all going to plan, I was enjoying the coverage and Scott McGrory’s commentary, and looking forward to the business end of the race… those brutal climbs and twisty descents…

Disaster struck! THE SWIMMING STARTED (who could have predicted that?) and Channel 7 decided to punt the cycling from its main channel onto 7 Mate.

“The road race will continue for a short time, for the time being, over on the Olympics from Seven app, and will return on 7 Mate…”

Ai, caralho! It’s 3am and I’m asleep! My PVR doesn’t know it needs to change channels! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!

The disaster struck with 73km to go, but then the race came back. Then the same message at 63km to go, for a look at the rugby 7’s. Yet again, the race came back! It seemed the producers were literally making and changing decisions on the fly.

Filho da puta!

Then with 54km to go it was off to the pool, and that was basically it. The action was elsewhere.

I saw a tiny bit (a minute or so) more cycling with 20km to go, but the race had blown up by then, and we’d missed everything important. Besides, it was immediately back to the pool. I watched all this in 30X fast-forward, desperately hoping for more bikes, and fearing the worst.

With 500m to go the telecast returned, so I saw Greg Van Avermaet win the sprint. Yay, Greg!

No. I am pissed off that I missed the race.

Yes, it’s the Olympics, there’s a lot on at once, and you can’t please everyone. But switching channels mid-event with no warning is a real dick move.

What should Channel 7 be doing instead?

Be predictable

Make a commitment that if an event starts on a particular channel, it won’t suddenly move to a different one. Publish which channel is hosting which sports in advance. The event schedule has been set for months.

Support expected user behaviour

Understand that the games are happening at the worst possible time of day for Australian audiences, which means people want and need to record things. This should be obvious, and the Seven telecast should support this basic user behaviour.

Give people information

The broadcaster needs to let people know which channel to watch/record! Seven has provided no way of knowing which of its three broadcast channels is showing a particular event. Its app shows what time an event is on, but crucially not which channel. Even if I did stay up to watch an event, Seven’s lack of forewarning means I have no idea if they’ll actually show it, or where.

Don’t make people do stupid things

If I want to be absolutely sure not to miss an event I want to see, I need to record all three broadcast channels, and then fast-forward through all three recordings until I can find the event. Ugh!

Technology is great, but only when it solves a user’s problem

Seven is live-streaming events through an app. Last night I woke up and tried to watch the road race finish using it, but it couldn’t connect to the servers, so that wasn’t an option. It’s also impossible to record a live stream, so the app doesn’t solve the ‘3am problem’. The app is slow, buggy and designed poorly. It feels like a real afterthought or exercise in box-ticking. The website is worse. Telstra seems to be responsible for this.

Have a plan B

As of Sunday morning (when they’re most needed) there are no highlights of the road race available in the app. There seems to be some video available for premium subscribers – I don’t have a problem with monetising Olympic content, which Seven paid a lot for, but frankly the app’s performance and reliability are so poor at this point that I don’t trust it enough to pay for it.

The kicker is: I knew this would happen, and I was really nervous about missing the road race, because Australian broadcasters are consistently terrible (see scheduling, punctuality, the quality of their on-demand services and apps, platform support etc). Cycling is a minority sport, and it isn’t taken seriously by commercial broadcasters, so it gets shoved around.

It was bad enough in 2012, but in 2016 it’s a joke. We’ve been living in an on-demand, user-centric world since at least Beijing 2008 – why can’t our Olympic broadcasters catch up?

On the positive side, Seven’s coverage and commentators are (so far at least) nowhere near as jingoistic and brainless as Nine’s nauseating effort in London. Small mercies.

When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio…

The Rio Olympics (Jogos Olimpicos do Rio) start tomorrow (AU time) with the traditional Opening Ceremony. Brazilians not being known for their subtlety and restraint, it’s likely to be a pretty epic spectacle, riddled with enough clichés to drive a person to drink.

So I made a drinking game.

Yes, it’s an early start for Australia, but as the Brazilians probably wouldn’t say, “É tempo de festa no Rio!”

You could also play it without the drinking and call it Rio Bingo, I guess.

Saúde!

(PS contains Portuguese swear words and at least one dick joke)

(PPS this is obviously aimed at Australians or people watching the Australian TV coverage, but you may be able to substitute Bruce MacAvaney for your own local sports broadcasting doyen/doyenne)

(PPS this being a cycling blog and all, I should point out that the men’s road race is one of the first events of the games, so make sure you’re not too hungover to watch it!)

Nibali slides to opportunity

Tour de France, Stage 5.

Apart from stage winner Greg Van Avermaet’s epic stage win (maybe crashing out of the Tour of Flanders and missing Paris-Roubaix has an upside), people are talking about Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali and his terrible day.

Cycling Central has it here.

I’ve got a CRAAAAAZY theory about Nibali’s slide down the overall rankings, shipping more than EIGHT MINUTES to the GC big boys, on a stage that he really should have had no trouble with. Cue mutterings about his form, his bad legs, and his overall ambitions being dashed. I suppose that’s the official line.

Bullshit, the lot of it. It’s all part of his cunning plan. Consider:

  • Nibali has already won a Grand Tour this season (and he knows what happens if you try to do the Giro/Tour double).
  • Nibali cannot stand his team leader, Fabio Aru. They hate each other’s guts. Nibali is ostensibly riding in support of Aru, but clearly doesn’t want to.
  • Nibali does not give a shit about the general classification.
  • Nibali wants to win the Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro in a few weeks. This whole Tour is a training ride for him.
  • Nibali knows he is more than good enough to win a stage or two in the mountains, especially if he’s not a GC threat.
  • Nibali is almost certainly out the door at Astana at the end of the season. He probably feels like he owes them absolutely nothing.

That’s why Vincenzo looked like he wasn’t even trying on stage 5, when he plopped off the back as soon as Movistar turned on the power. He wasn’t trying.

He wasn’t breathing hard, his shoulders weren’t rocking, he wasn’t all twisted and hunched like the injured Alberto Contador, and he wasn’t pedalling squares like Peter Sagan. He was cruising along like it was a coffee ride, giving zero fucks. In fact, you could almost see him calculating how much time he needed to lose before he’d be allowed up the road in the Pyrenees this weekend.

Now consider what’s coming up:

  • Stage 7 – a Cat.1 climb to the Col d’Aspin followed by a descent to the finish in Lac de Payolle – looks almost tailor-made for the Shark.
  • Stage 8 – the Col du Tourmalet (HC) followed  by three categorised climbs culminating in the Col de Peyresoude followed by a descent to the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon – also looks almost tailor-made for the Shark.
  • Stage 9 – five categorised climbs with a HC summit finish in Andorra, looks like a great place for the shark to do what he did on stage 19 of the Giro.

Don’t be surprised if Nibali pulls out the earpiece on any of these stages, launches himself up the road and takes a bit of glory for himself. It’d be a perfect slap in the [rubber] face to Aru, adds to his market value in a new contract year, and reminds everyone why he’s nicknamed after an apex predator.

For that plan to work, it’s a big advantage if he’s not a threat to Team Sky, Movistar, Tinkoff or BMC.

Besides, can you really see Nibali playing loyal domestique to his understudy and arch-rival Aru? With his ego? Haaaahahaha!

Rowdy.

This is the story of my father David, a man with a lifelong passion for cycling that was so strong, it actually led to him missing the birth of his first child.

This was before the times of mobile phones, of course, and he was squeezing in a few days’ cycle touring and camping somewhere along the Murray River. When I decided to make my appearance into the world a month early, it was several days before he could be found and informed that he was now a father, and that he should get back to Melbourne to face my mother, who had driven herself to hospital and spent several days trying to convince the nurses that she did actually have a husband.

I forgave him for missing my birth, but he can’t have been too repentant: I (much) later found out the old bastard missed my first birthday for the same reason. In fact many of my childhood birthdays involved driving to meet my Dad in country Victoria, where he’d be touring around the backroads with a bunch of schoolkids, showing them the beauty of the outdoors on two wheels. As a result, I had Great Victorian Bike Ride souvenir t-shirts for most years in the 1980s. He was a teacher, and along with some of his colleagues and parents he would take groups of kids on cycling expeditions a few times a year. When I was old enough, about 12, I was allowed to come on a few trips, fully loaded with a tent, sleeping bag and clothes in panniers on my heavy steel mountain bike.

David, universally known to his students as ‘Rowdy’, rode his Bob Jackson touring bike to work every day for 25 years, with students’ assignments for marking in his Carradice saddle bag (he’d order a new one every decade or so). This was a time when riding to work was a pretty weird thing to do, and he was regularly shouted at from passing cars, had bottles thrown at him, and even the occasional egg. His disdain for fashion and preference for utility over appearance probably contributed.

His other bike was a Jack Taylor tourer, in Reynolds 531. He didn’t ride it as often, preferring the cheaper Bob Jackson for reasons he never fully explained to me. He’d bought both bikes while living in England in 1976-77 after his parents had passed away. He lived in Cambridge, a paradise for the bicycle tourer, worked in a bike shop, and toured the countryside with the local touring club. At one point he did the John o’Groats to Land’s End (the length of Great Britain) ride.

In 1991 he introduced the family to the Tour de France. It was Indurain’s first Tour victory, and the 30 minute highlights package on SBS every night captivated me and my sister for the next decade. As you can see, I’m still captivated.

Never a racer, in his forties he discovered Audax, starting off with 100km rides and quickly building up to longer rides in pursuit of brevet cards. Audax clearly captured his imagination with its spirit of determination, independence and mental and physical challenge. A wiry man with a strong mind, he was well suited to long distance cycling. As his rides got longer he realised his old touring bikes were holding him back, and he finally treated himself to a new bike.

His Vetta road bike was a beautiful Italian machine made right at the zenith of steel framebuilding, just as carbon fibre was beginning to appear in the pro peloton. It was beautifully hand-painted in the Italian way, with ovalised tubing, plenty of chrome and Campagnolo components. The thing wasn’t just pretty, it was stiff and smooth and comfortable and fast. Once or twice he let me ride it, and I felt a million dollars, the impression of effortless speed and that intangible feeling of a quality steel frame left an impression on me that remains today.

By this time, I was old enough and strong enough to go on some big rides with him. We rode up Falls Creek together, my first big mountain climb. We did the Audax Alpine Classic (I did the 130km, he did the 200km) and I shot off at the start like the teenage idiot I was, virtually collapsed over the finish line in Bright, and saw him fly effortlessly past on his way to Mt Buffalo, looking as fresh as a daisy.

With his kids growing up, and a new bike to enjoy, Rowdy now had the time to really test himself. He finished the Audax Alpine Classic 200km several times (he wasn’t fast but he knew how to pace himself all day) and stepped up to really big rides, including the Fleche Opperman, a 24-hour team time trial where the team designs its own route covering at least 360km. His best attempt netted a 430km route.

IMAG1501
David (in blue) with his Vetta on an Audax ride.

In 2001, he decided to skip the Alpine Classic and stay home for the long weekend. On the Sunday morning, the 28th of January, he went out for a ride with two friends, the regular ride down Beach Rd to Frankston and then back to St Kilda, and home.

He never came home.

At 9:30am he was hit by a car in Brighton, and died instantly.

The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel on her way home from an all-night party, drifted across four lanes of traffic and collided head on with the three cyclists, killing my dad, putting his friend Hugh Lowy (the father of one of my closest friends) into intensive care for a few weeks, and barely touching the other rider.

That was 15 years ago today.

The driver of the car, Lynette Satalich, was charged with culpable driving and spent 18 months in prison. I bear her no ill will, I know she has suffered from her mistake ever since. In court it was clear to us that her life had been broken just as profoundly as ours had, or more. Over the years since she has gone out of her way to campaign for greater care from drivers, giving a number of interviews on TV and in print imploring others to take care on the roads. I respect her for that, it shows great courage.

I barely touched a bike for five years after Dad was killed. I just couldn’t really deal with it, the fun of cycling was gone. It was 2006 before it began to return, an impulsive purchase of a Fuji road bike rekindling my enjoyment. Carbon fibre! Dad would have marvelled!

I moved to London in 2007, following the footsteps of my parents who had both done the same in their 20’s, before they’d met, and the bike became my transport, my sport and my network of friends. Slowly my passion for the bike returned, through repetition as much as anything else.

Today, I am still reminded of David every time I step over a top tube, which is often. My own love for cycling came from him, but I express it in my own way.

I know that he affected others, too. I’ve met many of his former students over the years, who remember him fondly. My surname is not common, and he taught hundreds of people over the years. Several have told me they went on his bike trips. Two of them are fathers of kids at my cycling club. I am never sure if they know he is dead, or how he died.

I am still angry that he is gone, but thankful for what he taught me, and I know that paradoxically his death made me a better person.

I am angry that fifteen years later, cyclists are still killed unnecessarily on the roads, and that virtually nothing has been done about this. I am incensed by the cavalier attitude of too many drivers, who don’t give a moment’s thought to the responsibility they owe to others.

His loss still affects me, my sister and my mother profoundly. My daughter, who will be born any day now, will never know her grandfather. My sister is distraught that Dad will never meet her son, but is determined that her little boy will grow up knowing about his missing grandfather.

Of course his life was about much more than cycling, but I suppose it has become the most salient way I connect with his memory.

Today I hope that David would be proud that his bad luck has not destroyed the love for cycling he spent twenty years diligently building in me. I honour his memory every time I race, every time I push hard up a climb, and I give a silent nod of thanks every time I ride past the place on Beach Road where he fell.

Today, I honoured his memory in a simple way that he would love: I rode to work.

When Froome comes to Melbourne…

Chris Froome is coming to Melbourne to race at the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

This is massive news for the race, and for the profile of cycling in the Australian media. It’s a promoter’s dream, the reigning Tour de France champion, in a humble Victorian stage race!

The Jayco Herald-Sun Tour is the oldest, but least prestigious (according to the UCI) of the three big races in Australian cycling’s summer.

It starts on February 3rd, just a couple of days after the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 31) which itself follows the Tour Down Under (January 19-24).

Froome’s Team Sky will be racing both the Tour Down Under and the Cadel race but the the Tour champ will sit them out, saving himself until the last.

But why would the Tour de France champion travel halfway across the world to roll around with a bunch of Continental teams, in a (relatively) lowly race?

Don’t get me wrong, the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour (or just the Sun Tour, if you’ve been around a while) is an important race on the Australian cycling calendar, and it has a great history going all the way back to 1952.

2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue
2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue

History aside, in the present day it’s a UCI 2.1 race plonked at the very beginning of the UCI road season. A useful shop window for up-and-coming local riders like Nathan Haas or Calvin Watson, whose victories in 2011 and 2013 provided a springboard into the World Tour. An ideal chance for local riders to test themselves against a smattering of internationals.

But the Tour de France champion? Surely he’s above all this? Wouldn’t the Tour Down Under be a better race?

Not necessarily. Froome generally likes to show good early-season form at the Tour of Oman, which he has won twice, and which comes just two weeks after the Sun Tour, but four weeks after the Tour Down Under. Four weeks’ gap is too big to provide a proper tune-up for Oman.

The Tour Down Under also brings an undeniably higher intensity than the Sun Tour, and more international scrutiny. Far better to ease back into racing, away from the attention of the global cycling press (most of whom will be in the Middle East covering the Dubai Tour in the first week of February).

The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.
The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.

The race route for the Sun Tour will present enough challenges, particularly Stages 1 and 2 which both roll through the beautiful hills around Warburton (the area will be very familiar to any Melburnian rider worth their salt); and Stage 4 with its three climbs of Arthur’s Seat. And yet the stages are short, by World Tour standards.

The warm weather will be a much better preparation than training in Europe, the scenery and food will be a highlight, and with Team Sky likely to spend half the year at altitude in the bored seclusion of Tenerife, I’m sure he’s in no rush to go there.

Team Sky will have no Australian riders on its squad for the first time in its history, but a visit from Froome will more than satisfy the local branches of the team’s sponsors. Jaguar dealers around the country will already be shaving down in preparation.

Chuck in a couple of weeks seeing the sights, training in the hills around Adelaide, perhaps a trip to the Victorian Alps for a look at our best climbs, and it’s easy to see how a visit to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour strikes a perfect balance between training camp, easing into early-season racing, and pleasing the team’s backers and fans.

The bigger picture is that cycling, our humble little sport, now has a fighting chance of holding its own in the nation’s sports bulletins and newspapers for a solid three-week block at the height of summer.

This is great news for sponsors, TV broadcasters, team owners, racers and even your average recreational rider who just wishes more people understood.

It means casual fans who watch the Tour but not much else will come down after work in Melbourne’s CBD to watch the prologue, see one of their heroes up close, and see some great bike racing in person. They might even make the trip down to Arthur’s Seat for the finale, to see him climbing and soak up the atmosphere with the local cognoscenti.

With Team Sky racing, it won't be a toss-up between Aussie cycling's two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.
With Team Sky racing, it won’t be a toss-up between Aussie cycling’s two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.

It means that every NRS rider with ambitions of making the leap to the pro peloton will be licking his lips at the prospect. If Froome sometimes rides like a man fighting an octopus, wouldn’t you love a chance to be the octopus?

It’s fantastic news all round. The race director, John Trevorrow, must be pinching himself.

Should we expect Froome to arrive in top form and blow everyone away? I wouldn’t count on it, he’s obviously got much bigger octopuses to fight, but just having such a global superstar on the start list is one of the best things ever to happen to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

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