Rigoberto Uran finished safely in the front group of overall contenders in Foix after another strong ride during stage 13 at the Tour de France, but the final day in the Pyrenees had a sense of success after the UCI back-tracked on their decision to penalise Uran and gave him back the 20 seconds he had been docked. It was a victory for his Cannondale-Drapac team after mounting a strong protest after Thursday’s stage.
The UCI were forced to embarrassingly reverse their initial ruling and admitted that "race circumstances" had left teams unable to feed their riders as usual. They cancelled the 20-second penalty inflicted on Uran for taking a bottle from a roadside 'friend' of the team.
Uran finished in the slipstream of race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) in Foix and so is still fourth overall. With his 20-second penalty removed, he is now only 35 seconds back on Aru, 29 seconds behind Chris Froome (Team Sky) and 10 seconds down on Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale).
"It was a good day all round," Cannondale-Drapac directeur sportif Charly Wegelius told Cyclingnews after debriefing with fellow director sportifs Tom Southam and Andreas Kleir.
"Getting the 20-second penalty back is very important. We're happy and thankful that the UCI came to that conclusion, that they chose to see the spirit of the rule expressed as it should be. It's extremely difficult to feed riders in the finale of a mountain stage at the Tour de France because of the huge crowds and all the race traffic. Taking a bidon from the side of the road has zero impact on the result of the race and so it's a fair decision."
Chasing a podium spot in Paris
Cannondale-Drapac had a good start to their Tour de France with Taylor Phinney and then Nate Brown wearing the polka-dot jersey and other riders going in breakaways and fighting for stage victories.
Things have now turned far more serious after Uran emerged as an overall contender. A place on the final podium in Paris would be a huge result for the US-registered team and prove that they can fight against the WorldTour superteams such as Team Sky, BMC Racing, Astana and Movistar despite a far smaller team budget.
Wegelius spent much of his own racing career helping his team leaders defend a good slot in the overall classification. Now he has to do the same thing from the argyle-patterned team car. He hopes to do it with Uran's experience and the talented young team.
"The last week of a Grand Tour is usually about who goes backwards rather than who goes forwards," Wegelius pointed out.
"In that sense I think we had a good day with Rigo today. It was a complex stage because it was so short, but I think Rigoberto and the team rode very well. We have some young riders here, but Alberto Bettiol and Dylan Van Baarle were exceptional today, as Nate Brown was the other day. We have a strong team, but they're definitely fighting above their weight."
The Tour de France has never had four riders so close after 13 stages and especially on exit of the Pyrenees. The race heads across rolling roads into the Massif Central via Rodez and Le Puy-en-Velay during the weekend, but Wegelius warned against thinking they will be simple transfer stages towards the Alps.
"There's no chance to rest up in the next few days from I can see on the map. There's no chance to sleep until Paris," he warned.
"At the moment it's very close, and it'll stay like that until someone lands a knockout punch. There are some pretty big hills between now and the time trial, so plenty can happen. I think it's going to be a very interesting race right to the end, for everyone and especially for Rigoberto and us."