Gadzooks, what a stage! Attacks, bonks, controversy and the return of the former king.
5. Is the Sky falling?
The famously indomitable Gauls of the Asterix stories had only one fear: that the Sky would fall on their heads. Last night, Team Sky fell on their heads in France.
It was a short stage of only 138km, but it was on like Donkey Kong immediately on the Cat 1 Col de Chaussy, with no opportunities to warm up into it. Quite a lot of riders suffered.
The biggest loser was Geraint ‘Super G’ Thomas, who started the day sitting 4th overall, but was dropped on the Croix de Fer, losing 22 minutes and 11 places on GC.
Super G’s statement on Team Sky’s website simply said “I was just empty today. It was always going to happen and I was hoping it was going to come on Monday but it came today. I just didn’t have it, and as they say, sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. I was a cheap nail today, terrible, but there you go. There’s only one mountain stage to go.
“It was such a tough start, and when you’ve got nothing in the legs there’s not a lot you can do.”
The deeper problem for Sky is that by the halfway point of the stage, with most of the day’s climbing still ahead of them, the only Sky rider able to stay with the leaders and support Chris Froome was Wout Poels.
Richie Porte, Thomas, Leopold Konig and Nicolas Roche were all nowhere to be seen.
Peter Kennaugh went home sick a few days ago. Has lurgy spread through the Team Sky squad?
With another massive stage tonight including another climb of Croix de Fer followed by arguably the most famous of all Tour climbs, Alpe d’Huez, they’ll need to lift again.
4. Nibali commits a sporting faux pas?
The defending champion appeared to deliberately attack the maillot jaune just at the moment Froome suffered a mechanical problem with stones stuck in his brake calipers.
The defending champion looked back at Froome as he attacked, which angered the probable 2015 winner:
“He did see what he was doing, I’m pretty sure he looked around, saw I was in trouble and attacked. In my opinion you don’t do that to the race leader, it’s not sportsmanlike. He had the whole climb to attack and he waited until I had a mechanical. You certainly wouldn’t find me attacking a race leader like that.”
Nibali was unimpressed, replying,
“When I looked back, it was to look at [his Astana teammate] Kangert. We did the race on the Col de la Croix de Fer and were planning to make a big attack,”
“Lots of things have happened to me too, but that’s cycling. When Contador crashed on the descent (to Pra-Loup) we didn’t know until three or four kilometres after. It happens a lot of times in races. I can remember when I crashed at the 2010 Giro d’Italia, at Montalcino. There was the incident when Andy Schleck was attacked by Contador at the Tour the other year. There are no rules….”
His next comment is more revealing of his real reasons for giving zero fucks what Chris Froome thinks of him:
“Froome, Valverde or Quintana always came after me when I moved, but I was down in eighth overall. Perhaps if Nibali rides well, it scares people”
Nibali clearly doesn’t feel like he owes Froome any breaks. To sum up his argument:
1. Correlation is not causation
2. Fuck you.
The world has been waiting impatiently for some fireworks from Nairo Quintana, who needed to find nearly 3 minutes to take the lead of the race. Stealing that much time will take something daring, an epic long-range attack to really crack the leader and put him in the box.
It’s a tantalising prospect.
Nairo did eventually launch, but by waiting until the last 5km he could only gain 30 seconds – handy, but he needs another six of those and there’s only one more opportunity.
Should Nairo have gone earlier, with Froome isolated and not looking good? I think so.
Perhaps the anticipation of stage 20 tempered his ambition for today, but surely there’s no way he can gain 2:39 on one stage.
Even with Valverde providing support, there’s no reason for Froome to mark anyone except Quintana, unless things get really crazy.
I feel like this was a missed opportunity for the Colombian, even though he finally managed to reveal some cracks in the race leader’s armour.
Froome had a relatively bad day (even though he managed to take more time from Valverde and Contador).
He looked awful on the bike,
He looks like someone took his skeleton apart and when they put it back together there were a few extra bones in there.
— Tim Renowden (@megabicicleta) July 24, 2015
And then the skeleton with extra bones was put on a bike with different length cranks and wonky handlebars. That’s how bad he looks.
— Tim Renowden (@megabicicleta) July 24, 2015
But he survived. Just. He virtually had to be carried off to the team bus as he crossed the line. He went really deep and with another very hard stage ahead, and a team that appears to be suffering badly from nearly three weeks in the lead, there is still the possibility that everything could be lost.
I still think he will win the Tour de France, but to my eyes there are a few riders looking stronger than Froome at this point, which might be a worry for the Team Sky brains trust overnight.
Well, the defending champion has found some form, FINALLY. It’s as if the Tour came 10 days too early for the Italian, and he’s looking stronger as the race goes on.
This was a victory full of panache and guts. Yes, he was given some rope due to being far enough back that he wasn’t a threat to Froome or Quintana.
But he was a threat to Contador, whose Tour finally jumped the shark when lo Squalo jumped him and into 4th overall, with the podium in sight.
It was classic Nibali: aggressive, tough, pivoting off a rapid descent, then a sustained climb at tempo.
The emotion on his face at the finish showed what the victory meant after a very difficult Tour for the Italian.
He rides for a team that does his reputation no favours, but when he is on form he’s one of the most exciting racers in the world. Can he attack Valverde on stage 20 and salvage a podium finish from what looked like an impossible position a week ago?