Tuesday begins the first of four Alpine stages in the final week of the Tour de France. Stage 17 will see the peloton head 161km from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup, a route missing from the Tour de France since 1975. The historic stage had seen Eddy Merckx lose valuable time and the yellow jersey to Bernard Thévenet. This year Chris Froome (Team Sky) holds a comfortable lead of 3:10 ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 3:32 above Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
The same parcours, however, made an appearance at last month's Critérium du Dauphiné where van Garderen countered a late attack from Team Sky to move into yellow ahead of Froome. The American will be hoping for a repeat performance in order to maintain his podium spot ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who is closely at his heels at only 30 seconds back.
After two tough weeks of racing the first day in the Alps will prove to be a good indicator how riders have recovered after the rest day. The only GC contender missing from last month's preview at the Dauphiné is Quintana. Both he and Valverde warned the battle for yellow is not over despite their deficit, and they have promised to fight until the final stage.
There are five categorised climbs in total with the Category 3 Col des Lèques coming after 40km of racing. By this point the day’s main break should have been formed and while the second climb – the Cat 3 Col de Toutes Aures – comes after 67km, the stage’s main features are packed into the second half.
The Col de la Colle St Michel is unlikely to see any of the GC contenders lose ground but after a rest day anything is possible and any sign of weakness will be exploited on the Cat 1 Col d’Allos.
The descent off the Col d’Allos is a tricky one that should see Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali display their downhill skills. At the Dauphiné Romain Bardet threw caution to the wind with a daring attack on the descent. He put over a minute into the Sky-led peloton and held on for victory. With wet roads forecast for the stage the descent could be highly dangerous.
The final climb is just 6.2km with a steady average gradient of 6.5 per cent. It’s made for Team Sky’s tactic of wearing down their opposition.
Heading into the final week, Froome maintains his three-minute lead with his rivals looking for any final opportunities to gain time. Since the start of the race two weeks ago, he has shown his unwavering strength and the support from his team. This final week they will be facing the most Alpine finishes in the Tour in nearly a decade. As Quintana told the media during the rest day, "There's still a long way to go in this Tour and we'll give everything to win."
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