There were five cols on the menu, and it was the sort of race profile that riders who were willing to commit to aggressive racing would have been crying out for.
The first climb, Ovronnnaz, was sure to see a move, and after a host of failed attempts the break of the day established itself. Sure enough, Thomas De Gendt was present, along with his victims for the day, Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac), Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton Scott), Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Hermann Pernsteiner (Team Bahrain-Merida).
The Belgian was on a mission for the climber’s jersey, in addition to the points competition he was already involved in. The others were sent out to get in the escape with ulterior motives for the big play that was going to come on the final mountain of the day.
Back in the peloton, and with so many plans still brewing, the break were never going to be given much leeway. And so it proved with the De Gendt quintet only afforded a maximum lead of 2:25. That was always going to be manageable as the bunch set about the final four climbs, with the LottoNL-Jumbo doing the majority of the work to keep things in check. Their objective was to get as far into the stage as possible before having to use up Steven Kruiswijk.
Eventually Team Sky decided enough was enough on the last of the 2nd cat climbs. They attempted to take control but this coincided with Bora sending Emanuel Buchmann up the road and EF Drapac doing the same with Martinez. This was the perfect time to get a minute or so lead on the peloton before the big boys attacked each other on the final ascent. Then it got interesting when Jon Izaguirre joined them, making it five out front and three chasing.
Team tactics came properly into play at this point. Carthy stopped riding as he was waiting for Martinez, and Pernsteiner did the same for Bahrain-Merida. It took a while, but eventually everything came together at the bottom of Les Collons and the theories were looking good. Now all they needed was a minute and a half and they would survive the accelerations from behind.
Carthy and Pernsteiner came through with big turns for their designated leaders, Martinez and Izaguirre, before being dropped, but behind, Team Sky still had troops to chase them down and set up the big showdown between Bernal and Roglic.
The tempo from Thomas, Lopez and then Castroviejo was brutal, so when Bernal placed his first attack, only Roglic could follow. Richie Porte (BMC) almost got on but a second, then a third, attack from the young Team Sky rider stopped that happening. All Roglic had to do was follow Bernal, and that’s what he did, though those three accelerations from the Colombian were very impressive. Martinez and Izaguirre hoped to be far enough in front to survive the brutality that was unleashed behind them, but Bernal was onto them with his second attack.
As is often the case when it’s mano-a-mano, there was a brief truce that allowed some of the second group guys to return, and so Kruiswijk came back and tried to set a tempo quick enough to discourage further attacks, but not before Rui Costa and Fuglsang had slipped away. LottoNL were happy with this scenario as it meant that the leading duo could potentially claim the vital bonus second at the line, and it was all looking settled until Bernal hit out again.
This time Roglic struggled to match the initial jump of the Team Sky rider, but he used his experience wisely and didn’t panic. Then Bernal produced his final throw of the dice a kilometre from the top, and that saw the white jersey holder and the race leader blow past the two who were in front, and we had the classic top two on GC together at the summit of the last big climb.
Roglic then must have thought, ‘I’ll ride with Bernal and maybe win the stage and take maximum bonus seconds,’ because he took turns on the front. Normally the race leader would just watch his main rival instead of riding. But they weren’t going to risk crashing on the descent, so Rui Costa, Porte and Fuglsang came back on the descent.
At that point the stage win was realistically between Rui Costa and Fuglsang, but they needed to try and slip away on the descent before the finish. Bernal tried on the downhill, which put Porte under pressure, and then nearer the bottom Rui Costa tried his hand.
Fuglsang was caught behind Porte, who was a bit more circumspect than the others, and found himself with 50 metres to close when they came into the small village at the bottom. As is customary, if you caused the gap then you need to close it, so Fuglsang left Richie to struggle to regain contact with the first three, and then just as Rui Costa sat up, not willing to drag Roglic and Bernal along, Porte got back on and freewheeled. This was the perfect moment to counter, and the Dane couldn’t have timed it better. It was textbook.
The four remaining riders all looked to the right whilst Fuglsang maintained his momentum up the left. Roglic wasn’t going to chase, nether was Bernal, and Porte had just made the effort to get back. Rui Costa was the only one who had to do something, and he had tried and failed to get away so he was trying to recover and regroup. By the time he had found some strength the Astana rider had 30 seconds and it was all over for the former world champion.
The three GC riders had no real interest in chasing as they risked losing out in the sprint, so they worked just enough to not be caught by the second group. That made life easier for Roglic in the contest with Bernal, no jockeying for position would be needed as all he had to do was come off Bernal’s wheel to increase his lead.
Fuglsang time trialled to the win, thanks to the well-timed attack against the only rival for the stage, and Roglic did what he needed to do all day, stick to Bernal and if bonuses were available beat him in the sprint, which he did. Tactically, it was a good day for everyone as all the teams stuck to their strategies, some lost, some won but it sure made for a fascinating race.