Tour de France: Sizing up the GC picture on the first rest day

Nine stages into the Tour, Cyclingnews looks at the state of affairs in the battle for yellow

Before the start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf – just 10 days and nine stages ago – there were roughly 20 overall contenders fighting for a place on the final podium in Paris. The early stages revealed a few cracks and the finish at La Planche des Belles Filles caused a minor shake out, but there were 10 riders packed into 60 seconds before Sunday's stage to Chambéry. Then the Mont du Chat climb and especially the descent changed everything, shaking up the race and shaping the list of real overall contenders.

Now just Fabio Aru (Astana), Roman Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) are within a minute of Chris Froome (Team Sky), with everyone else's hopes and dreams arguably scattered in the wind.

Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Richie Porte (BMC) and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) are out of the race after crashes, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) appear to be shadows of their former selves, and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) and Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) are perhaps thinking of a place in the top five rather than going 'all-in' for overall victory.

We are not seeing a change of generation but this year's Tour de France looks set to be very different from recent editions. When the Tour starts from Perigueux on Tuesday, with a flat stage to Bergerac, Froome, Aru, Bardet and Urán, will begin to fight for the final podium places, while watching out for a resurgence from those further back.

It has been an intense first part of the Tour and the rest of a race could turn into a tactical battle for every second. But there is a feeling and a hope that there is so much more to come.

There are 23 categorised climbs (mountains and hills) in this year's Tour de France. The riders have only covered seven so far (one in Vosges and six in the Jura). They still face eight climbs in the Pyrenees, two in the Massif Central and six in the Alps including the mountain finish to the summit of the Col d'Izoard.

How they stand and how they look after the first rest day

Chris Froome (Team Sky) - yellow jersey

Froome started the Tour de France as the natural favourite for a fourth victory but with doubts circulating about his true form and possible dominance. Those questions remain but Froome has shown his superiority by avoiding the pitfalls of the first week and reaching the first rest day in yellow. He is still in charge of the Tour but his grip seems significantly weaker.

We're seeing the Froome of 2016 rather than that of 2015 and 2013. He is arguably more aggressive but less dominant. The long bursts of high-cadence climbing have been replaced with downhill attacks, brief surges on the climbs that drop some of his rivals but not all, and clever use of his strong teammates.

Froome leads Aru by 18 seconds as the Tour heads south towards the Pyrenees. He knows he will have to gain time on Aru, Bardet and the rest to avoid any problems in the final week. Although he will arguably gain time in the Marseille time trial, it's not an especially long one.

Fabio Aru (Astana) - second overall at 18 seconds

Aru's stage victory at La Planche des Belles Filles only earned him 26 seconds on Froome – less than the 40 he lost in the Düsseldorf time trial – but it boosted the 27 year-old Sardinian's morale immeasurably. He proved to himself and the world that he could drop Froome and be a real overall contender. It is an incredible resurrection.

Aru was on his knees in April after a bout of bronchitis in March and then he sustained a knee injury at training camp. He had to miss the start of the Giro d'Italia in his beloved Sardinia but all the pain and disappointed seemed to have produced a focus, new dedication and fresh determination. At 27 he is still on the rise, still improving physically and tactically and that is no doubt fuelling his confidence even more.

We will find out in the next two weeks if is development is enough to stop Froome and Team Sky.

Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) - third overall at 51 seconds

The 2017 Tour runner-up says he's never felt so strong in the first week of a Tour and his team, AG2R La Mondiale, certainly look like they have developed some serious climbing firepower to support him. Bardet's searing downhill attack off the Mont du Chat might have had Froome in difficulties had he not found some opportune allies in Astana.

In the Pyrenees, though, Bardet will have to raise his game even further if he wants to go for broke and sink Froome – not to mention Aru.

Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) - fourth overall at 55 seconds

Even if he quit now, Urán's return to the Tour de France this year has been a resounding success, with a brilliant stage win in Chambéry.

Can there be more? The Colombian's Grand Tour GC record has been uneven up to now, with illness knocking him back both in the Giro and the Vuelta a España. After a fairly discreet spring campaign, it seems like Urán has come up good – really good – in the Tour de France.

Whether that will last, though, is another question.

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) - fifth overall at 1:37

Jakob Fuglsang is riding the Tour de France of his life, and to judge by the way he turned in a much more impressive ride on the harder stage through the Jura than in the Planche des Belles Filles, there's no way he's wilting under the increased media spotlight.

Riding in tandem with Fabio Aru means Astana are now only GC team to remain with a duo of challengers, and so far they've ridden a very impressive two-hander. Froome knows that letting Fuglsang get away is a risky business at best.

Dan Martin (Quick Step Floors) - sixth overall at 1:44

The Irishman had trouble following the accelerations on the final climb of the Mont du Chat and crashed several times, but his spectacularly strong bounce back on the descent has kept Martin firmly in contention.

He's won in the Pyrenees in the past in the Tour, in 2013, and in the Route du Sud, so Team Sky will need to keep a very close eye on Martin from here on.

Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) - seventh overall at 2:02

Yates is well on track for his personal targets of the young riders jersey and a top 10 placing in Paris. There's still two weeks to go, but taking sixth last summer in one of the toughest Vueltas of the last decade was no fluke and Yates currently has a three minute cushion over his closest pursuer, Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) in the white jersey contest.

So far, so very good for the man from Northern England.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) - eighth at 2:13, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) - 11th at 5:15

Both appear to be sliding out of the GC battle almost before it's begun, with Quintana losing time on both of the main mountain stages and Contador assailed by injuries from crashes and below-expectations race condition. Neither, though, can be written off.

Contador is frequently most dangerous when he's on the back foot and is blessed with the rare gift of being able to turn a Grand Tour in his favour when he's not the strongest rider in the race. Quintana has a Grand Tour track record of podium finishes and wins. Aru refuses to write off either yet, but the Pyrenees will be crucial for both.

Outliers: George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates), Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing Team), Emanuel Buchman (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Following his win in the Amgen Tour of California, Bennett has stepped up several notches this July, Meintjes has often shown consistency rather than stand-out brilliance is his strongest suit in Grand Tours, Caruso is one of BMC Racing Team's most talented all-rounders, riding strongly in the Tour de Suisse, and Buchmann is en route to being the surprise success of the 2017 Tour.

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