You have to hand it to ASO, this Tour de France is coming down to the last climb and what a climb: Alpe d'Huez.
Whoever wrote the script has done it perfectly. Even better, Nairo Quintana has taken back 30 seconds on La Toussuire and Chris Froome doesn't look as invincible as he did coming into the last stages. That's hardly surprising giving the intensity and the relentless pressure he's been facing in and out of the race. I’m not sure that I agree with people booing Sky, but it's certainly not unusual given the importance of the event and some fans wanting to see their heroes do well. At least Romain Bardet has saved French honour with some brilliant rides and is still in with a slight hope of securing the climbers jersey.
Geraint Thomas' crash looks like it's cost him more than his favourite pair of Oakleys, but any kind of fall costs you vital energy in the Tour and affects your recovery. I suspect accumulative efforts from earlier in the race and then the fall have finally caught up with him. It's a cruel blow for his GC place and it also means Chris Froome has one less teammate to use up. If it hadn't been for Wout Poels burying himself on the Col du Glandon when he was the last Sky rider within sight of the yellow jersey, then Froome would have been in a more worrying situation than just having to keep a reasonable gap to Vincenzo Nibali.
The question of did Nibali see the race leader with a problem will be a subject of much discussion for all of 30 seconds. He most likely did and he most likely was going to attack near there anyway, but given they aren't exactly friends then don't be surprised if there was some payback going on. I imagine if Nibali can be involved in the GC battle between Quintana and Froome on the last climb of the Tour then he won't be speaking much English.
So can Qunitana take back two and half minutes on the famous 21 bends? Well, looking at it logically he only managed 30 seconds on la Toussuire then the answer is no. But then again that climb wasn't as steep as the Alpe, so on a terrain better suited to a pure climber the Movistar rider has a slim chance. He'll have to go from the first ramps though and hope that Froome crumbles under the pressure. If that's one of the scenarios written by the race direction when they thought up this route, then the Colombian television and radio will be ecstatic and will make good viewing in itself.
There are a lot of ifs and maybes before that happens, but if Sky can keep control of what's happening during the last stage before the Paris procession then no doubt the race leader would like to rewrite his memories of Alpe d'Huez with a spectacular win. I can't see him getting a hunger knock like he did in 2013 as this time the stage is shorter and there are clearer opportunities to refuel, but if anything happens mechanically or if he suffers a puncture at the wrong time then all hell will let loose. Then we might be saying hello to Astana and Vincenzo Nibali again.
Of course, for it all to be really perfect for France then stage 20 would see Thomas Voeckler grimace, gurn and generally pull all his funny-face repertoire before out-sprinting Romain Bardet and Thibault Pinot, five minutes in front of the GC race. Don't laugh, stranger things have happened.
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Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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