Tour de France: The final fight for the podium

Will the GC riders attack Froome or play it safe for the podium?

Not even ill fortune, it seems, can deny Chris Froome (Sky) final overall victory at the Tour de France, and though his crash on the rain-soaked descent of the Cote de Domancy on Friday was a timely reminder that the race isn’t quite over until he carries yellow safely to Paris, he appears inured to bad luck.

Froome rode up the final haul of Le Bettex on Geraint Thomas’ bike and with his yellow jersey bloodied and torn, and at times he seemed to be struggling to hold the wheel of teammate Wout Poels. Yet by day’s end, he had still extended his lead atop the overall standings, and he now lies 4:11 ahead of Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who moved up second by dint of winning the stage to Saint-Gervais.

Bardet, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) et al will doubtless watch Froome very vigilantly on the opening climb of the Col des Aravis on Saturday, searching for signals that his injuries are more serious than first thought, but the Briton’s buffer is so much, his team is so strong and the battle for the other podium places so tight that he would have to be flagging very obviously for anyone to even consider testing him.

Froome skipped his press conference after stage 19 in order to have his injuries examined further, but there seemed to be confidence in the Sky camp that he would be fit for purpose for the final day in the Alps. “If he makes a good night, with the physio and everything, he should be ok,” Wout Poels said.

On the corresponding stage a year ago, of course, Froome faded dramatically and very suddenly on the road to Alpe d’Huez, but on that occasion, he was racing against a Quintana who was warming to the idea that he might be able to win the Tour. This time around, Froome races against men who have been resigned for some time to competing for the minor placings, and they may be unwilling to bring the fight to him now.

“I’m sure I’m going to be a bit stiff after today,” Froome said on Friday evening, but for more than a week, he has been competing in a race of his own. In the shadow of Mont Blanc, he effectively conceded a handicap to his rivals by racing on a teammate’s bike rather than his own, and still they could scarcely shake him. Froome remains the only man who can beat Froome.

Roman Bardet (AG2r-La Mondiale) riding to the stage win and into second place overall

General Classification after stage 19
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky82:10:37 
2Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:04:11 
3Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team0:04:27 
4Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange0:04:36 
5Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:05:17 
6Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:06:00 
7Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team0:06:20 
8Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre - Merida0:07:02 
9Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx - Quick-Step0:07:10 
10Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo0:07:42 

Five in contention for the podium

Assuming Froome’s injuries are no more consequential than first reported, Saturday’s denouement in the Alps ought instead to be built around the battle for the second and third step of the podium, and there is scope for plenty of changes to the photograph on the Champs-Élysées.

The one certainty is that Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Froome’s dauphin for so long, is out of the running altogether, after slipping from second to tenth when he too crashed on the day’s final descent. At this juncture, five riders appear to be in contention for the two remaining steps of the Paris podium.

The momentum seems to be with Romain Bardet after his win at Saint-Gervais and his fine time trial at Megève, and the sinuous descent on the Joux Plane should suit him, but it might be the case, too, that the Frenchman has dug too deeply into his reserves this past week and he could pay a price on Saturday’s mammoth leg.

At the end of a lacklustre Tour, Quintana lies third overall almost in spite of himself, 4:27 off Froome. In truth, the Colombian has never looked like himself these past three weeks, and there has been no sign yet of his traditional third week surge. While the romantic in Quintana might be tempted to launch a quixotic attack on Froome’s yellow jersey by trying to break up the race early on, the pragmatist is more likely to win out, and ride conservatively to secure a podium spot, earning a healthy quota of WorldTour points from an otherwise disappointing month.

Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) held doggedly to third place for more than a week before slipping to 4th, 4:46 behind Froome, at Saint-Gervais. The youngster has increasingly given the impression of struggling on climbs as the race has progressed, but has thus far avoided an outright jour sans.

After punching clear with Froome at Finhaut-Emossan on Wednesday, Richie Porte (BMC) looked set to be the week’s big mover in the upper reaches of the GC, but his upward momentum stalled a little in the Megeve time trial, and risked grinding to a halt when he crashed on the same descent as Froome on Friday. Now 5th at 5:17, Porte is downplaying his podium chances after being distanced in the final kick to the line on stage 19/

Fabio Aru (Astana) entered his debut Tour with a reputation for improving dramatically in the third week, and that trend of enjoying a late spike appears to be continuing here. Although Astana’s day-long forcing and Aru’s late attack ultimately yielded nothing of great consequence on Friday, the Sardinian’s seems to be on an upward trajectory. 6th overall at 6 minutes, he is poised to breach the top five and is a lingering podium threat.

 

Chris Froome and Wout Poels finish stage 19 after Froome crashed

No risks?

Mollema’s troubles on Friday, when he lost 4:26 and dropped nine places in the overall standings after his crash on the final descent, may serve as a warning for the riders competing for the podium places. On a stage as tough as this – which takes in the Aravis, Colombière, Ramaz and Joux Plane, and is likely to be run off in miserable conditions to boot – it is far easier to lose large minutes than it is to gain seconds. Caution may be the byword of the day.

Bardet has been an aggressive presence on this Tour, but his appetite has likely been sated by his solo stage win and provisional second place overall, and one might expect him to look to hold what he has. A similar attitude could prevail at Movistar, where Quintana is on the cusp of a podium place despite failing to shine, and while his teammate Alejandro Valverde (7th at 6:20) will feel he can move up a place or two if others crack, he won’t be minded to risk too much to find out.

Astana, on the other hand, seemed to be buoyed by Aru’s late resurgence and the team’s own track record of making late gains in Grand Tours. Vincenzo Nibali won last month’s Giro and Aru last year’s Vuelta in the final days thanks in no small part to startling shows of strength from their team. Diego Rosa et al should be to the fore again on Saturday.

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