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Race reports and previews

Tour de France 2017

Stage 21

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

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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. 

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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.

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.

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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. 

Stage 19

Eddie’s back!

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.

* 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.

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. 

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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. 

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.

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.

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.

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″.

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.

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!

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.


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…


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?

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.

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


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.


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?

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

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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.

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?

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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?


  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!

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


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?”

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

(* Yes, I know it doesn’t mean nuts).

Stage 6 – Vesoul  to  Troyes

Kittel wins.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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:


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.

Sun Tour 2017 – Stage 4

The 2017 Sun Tour (formally the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour but that’s a mouthful) concluded last Sunday with Stage 4, with a circuit race around Kinglake.

Kinglake being one of Melbourne’s best training grounds for local cyclists (the climb from St Andrews is a popular benchmark) and only around an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the stage was well attended.

It was an exciting stage, with Sky’s Ian Stannard just hanging on for the win, after a trademark attack from the breakaway with just over a kilometre to go. He very nearly cocked it up, overestimating his lead and taking his sweet time to amble across the line with a two-arm salute, while Aaron Gate (AquaBlue) charged at the line behind him.

Damien Howson took the overall win comfortably, with his strong Orica-Scott team controlling the race and protecting the lead he’d built on Stage 2 at Falls Creek. Howson really developed into a valuable climbing domestique in 2016 (remember him turning himself inside out for Esteban Chaves on stage 20 of the Vuelta, to help the Colombian grab 3rd place overall?) and it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 24. He’s lightly built, and an excellent time triallist. I think he’ll have a big 2017.

I was a little less mobile on the course than usual, due to bringing my 1-year old daughter and her grandmother along to see the likes of Chris Froome, Chaves, Simon Gerrans and Cameron Meyer in action. Mum doesn’t get to many bike races (although she pointed out that in his youth her father once followed the Sun Tour around and used to ride his bike from Ouyen to Mildura to race, and then – possibly apocryphal – back) but she does follow the French Tour, so it was a thrill for her to see the stars up close. Her anecdote is also a reminder that the Sun Tour is a race with a great history in Victoria, and the list of winners is full of great riders.

And that is really the thing about the Sun Tour – in its current incarnation it’s a perfect mix of the world’s elite, domestic aspirants, and the club cyclists and enthusiasts who rode out to spectate. And all of it is within touching distance.


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!

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.

Don’t miss it.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 21 I can’t believe it’s over edition

Looking forward to some sleep, actually.

5. Van der Breggen wins the best race of the day

Yes, the women’s race La Course by TDF was on as a curtain-raiser for the remains of the men’s peloton, but it was a better race. The weather was ordinary and the cobbles were clearly a death-trap, forcing riders to corner in a manner familiar to Melbourne commuters who have to cross tram lines in the wet.

And yet there were plenty of spirited breakaways, not least from Aussies Gracie Elvin, Lizzie Williams and Amanda Spratt trying to soften the race up for Orica-AIS teammate Emma Johansson.

Apart from all the cheering, there was much waggery on Twitter about this:

Of course the Rabo-Liv hegemony would not be denied, and Anna van der Breggen went off solo with a lap to go, and held on to win in an absolute thriller as the bunch sprint unfolded a few metres behind her.

4. Another top ten for P. Saggy

I am genuinely disappointed that Sagan couldn’t add to his tally of 11 top-five finishes this Tour, but 7th is still pretty handy.

You just know that Sagan will be hungover for days, and I’ll just assume he’s never heard of Bon Scott.

That’s his fourth consecutive green jersey, at the age of just 25, and you could make a fair argument that Sagan was the most involved rider in this Tour, despite not winning a stage.

3. Look, not much happened, can we skip #3?

OK, OK, I’ll mumble something about champagne and Team Sky in special kit with yellow accents that made them look like a team of European wasps.

2. Froome didn’t stack

When I saw the weather and general mayhem of La Course. I thought to myself, “Gee wizz, this men’s race is going to be full of crashes if the conditions don’t improve. That’s not ideal if the yellow jersey has an accident and breaks his collarbone and can’t finish the race” and stroked my beard.

The organisers must’ve thought similar things, in a more Gallic fashion (perhaps stroking their baguettes) and so the GC was neutralised virtually as soon as the race was onto the Champs Elysees (i.e. the racing was just for the stage win, with no risk of late scratchings from the Big List).

That meant there was no panic when Froome ended up out the back behind the cars in the final laps, and it meant he could enjoy the last few corners with his teammates, safe in the knowledge he couldn’t lose even if he stayed out there all night.

1. Greipel

Hey, I like Greipel. He seems like a quality dude. And he’s had a flaming amazing Tour, winning four out of the five stages available to the pure sprinters (and coming 2nd on the one that Cavendish won). He was easily better than Cavendish, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Sagan, Coquard, Matthews, Demare, Bouhanni…

He beat everyone handsomely all Tour. It’s his first win on the Champs Elysees and his 10th Tour stage in total.


Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 20 Alpe d’Huez edition

What happened? What didn’t happen, more like.

5. Chris Froome didn’t lose the Tour de France

It was never the most likely outcome, but as I said yesterday Froome hasn’t been looking all that fresh over the last few days so there was an element of risk.

When everything went a bit psychedelic on the Croix de Fer (Stage 20 remix) and attacks were going up the road like firecrackers, anything seemed possible. When it all came back together in the valley to Bourg d’Oisans, it was clear that Sky had things well in hand.

Froome should buy Wout Poels a very nice Jag as a thank you gift, as without his perfectly executed tempo riding in stages 19 and 20, Froome might’ve been in deep trouble. Today, Froome also had Richie Porte doing a big job of work (#sherliggettisms #drink etc) making sure Quintana didn’t get off the leash until it was too late to change the final outcome.

When Quintana did attack, the team didn’t panic. Instead they reverted to their training and rode at threshold to the finish, knowing that it would be enough to secure victory.

Exciting for the fans? No. Effective? Extremely. Yes, Froome dropped more time and another day in the Alps might have been enough to cause real palpitations. But there isn’t another day in the Alps, so.

4. Nearly Nairo just adds to the expectation

Nairo Quintana is a freak. Not just because of the way he climbs (a lot of guys can climb like him on their day) but more because he always looks far better in the third week of a Grand Tour than in the first.

He’s done it in two Tours and a Giro now. Probably he’s just better at maintaining his levels as everyone else is slowly collapsing, but that’s the trick with Grand Tours.

After what felt like an eternity of waiting for him to attack, it finally came, but too late to change the overall result. The assault on Alpe d’Huez was one to remember though, even if he fell just short of catching Thibaut Pinot for the stage win, and a bit further short of stealing the Tour from Froome.

Fairly or not, this will still be remembered as a Tour of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ for Quintana.

Woulda won if he hadn’t dropped 1’24” on stage 2. If he hadn’t lost 1’04 on stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. If he’d attacked earlier on stage 19.

Whatever. That’s racing. Froome was better over the duration. But the sensation of Nairo’s unstoppable rise shows no sign of abating. He was 4’20 behind Froome in 2013, and only 1’12” in 2015.

The anticipation for next year has already started.

3. Nibali’s puncture hands Valverde his first Tour podium

You may think that a puncture at the base of Alpe d’Huez is karma’s punishment for riding off on Chris Froome yesterday, but Vincenzo Nibali is likely to argue it just goes to show that when the race is on, there are no favours.

Whatever your point of view, there’s no doubt that the flat tyre came at the worst possible moment for the Astana man. It crushed any chance of attacking Alejandro Valverde’s third position on GC.

This meant Valverde will earn his first Tour de France podium – which seems odd after more than a decade of the Spaniard lighting up the race. It was a consistent performance from Movistar’s number two man, demonstrating that dual leadership is not necessarily a problem for the team, if managed well.

Movistar director Eusebio Unzue has been in the game for over 30 years, and has managed seven overall wins at the Tour (including the difficult transition from Pedro Delgado to Miguel Indurain in 1991). He knows what he is doing.

So does Valverde, and he shadowed Froome up Alpe d’Huez like a perfect team player, guarding his own place on GC without doing anything to the detriment of his young leader up the road.

2. Vintage Pinot

Redemption for Thibaut Pinot, whose Tour has been one of misfortune and missed opportunities. After a shocking first two weeks, he recovered some form to claim top-five finishes on stages 14, 17 and 19.

His effort on on Alpe d’Huez, the most prestigious of all summit finishes, was something special. Ducking through rabid crowds wielding costumes, flares, beers and flags like weapons, attacking Ryder Hesjedal repeatedly until he was finally alone, riding on adrenaline and fumes in the knowledge that Nairo Quintana was coming up fast from behind.

It was a victory to savour, and for the third consecutive time a French winner on the famous Alpe.

Start the debate: was Pinot or Romain Bardet the better French rider of the 2015 Tour de France?

1. The Alps

The Alps smashed the Pyrenees for excitement this year. Perhaps it was due to their placement so late in the schedule, with riders exhausted and many climbers knowing their GC chances were finished.

In any case, the winners on stages 17-20 (Geschke, Bardet, Nibali and Pinot) all won with rides of huge daring and strength, while the GC battle finally sparked into life behind them.

In the end, the GC battle was much closer than it looked for the entire Tour. Perhaps one more day in the Alps would have changed the result. We will never know, but for my money the four days in the Alps elevated the Tour above this year’s Giro, the first time I’ve said that since 2011. is now live for stage 19 featuring 3 big climbs from yesterday’s stage. #BeardysCaravan #Tdf #tdf2015

A photo posted by Beardy McBeard (@beardmcbeardy) on Jul 25, 2015 at 4:04am PDT

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 19

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.

3. Nairo

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.

2. Froome

Froome had a relatively bad day (even though he managed to take more time from Valverde and Contador).

He looked awful on the bike,

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.

1. Nibali

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?

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 18

I’ll be honest, I was drunk in a hotel room after a long day of doing my real job in front of clients. My recollection is not so sharp today, for some reason…

5. Col du Glandon
Well, for a few fleeting moments it seemed almost possible that the race might come alive on the Col du Glandon.
Alberto ‘Pistolero’ Contador was quick on the draw, attacking solo with nearly 50km to the finish.
Vincenzo ‘Lo Squalo’ Nibali also scented blood and tried to establish a break before the summit, the plan seemingly to extend the gap on the descent and then climb up the GC on the final hill.
It was exciting!
Then Sky did what Sky does, lifted the tempo, reeled everyone back in and that was that as far as the Big List was concerned.

4. Fuglsang and the deadly moto

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was cursing after the stage, because he was knocked off his bike by one of the camera motorbikes as it passed him on the Col du Glandon. He was in the lead group at the time, and still managed to finish 5th on the day, but geez…

It was all a bit reminiscent of the Shimano neutral service car decking Jesse Sergent at the Tour of Flanders, wasn’t it?

The moto driver from today’s incident has been booted off the race, as punishment.

3. Pierre Rolland!

Pierre Rolland emerged from the witness protection programme last night to claim second on the stage.

Usually at the Tour Rolland is in everything. This year, like the rest of his Europcar team, he’s barely been seen.

Would it be wrong to infer that the team’s departing sponsor has not been replaced, that the team is therefore facing imminent demise, and that this is affecting team morale?

2. Hip hop hooray, for Romain Bardet!
Well, the French whippet has done a good one.
He hasn’t had the Tour he wanted, but his AG2R squad will be chuffed with its second stage win.
After royally screwing up stage 14 (won by Steve Cummings as Bardet and Thibaut Pinot discussed things between themselves) Bardet wasn’t leaving this one to last-minute tactics, and decided that solo was the way to get it done.

Frankly, he deserved a win after being one of the more aggressive climbers of this Tour, and this was quite a stylish victory, his first in a Grand Tour.

That’ll be enough to crank up the expectation for next year, then.

1. The Lacets de Montvernier can stay

These lacets, they’re bloody stunning, aren’t they? It was a bit eerie what with spectators not being allowed along the narrow roads in that section, but it made for some compelling aerial footage. There’ll be millions of amateurs heading there next summer!

Check out Beardy’s Caravan for some amazing photos of the day.

Stage 19 should be a belter – epic climbs and tired legs – and I’m off to watch it with Blackburn CC. Enjoy.