Stage 17: Pont du Gard-Gap
Date: July 24, 2019
Distance: 200 km
Stage type: Hilly
This transition stage has 'breakaway' written all over it. With three race-deciding mountain stages just beyond it, the only concern for the GC leaders and their teams will be to reach Gap without suffering any mishaps and having expended as few resources as possible. Similarly, the sprinters are unlikely to instruct their teammates to chase down any escapees thanks to the presence of the third-category Col de la Sentinelle little more than a dozen kilometres from the finish.
Topping out at just under 1,000 metres, it's not featured on a Tour stage into Gap since 2006, when French baroudeur Pierrick Fédrigo outwitted Italian galloper Salvatore Commesso. After playing cat and mouse with each other, the pair finished a few seconds ahead of a large chasing group mainly comprising GC riders, which highlights the difficulty of the Sentinelle as the final obstacle.
Since Fédrigo's victory, all four stages into Gap have been won by riders who were members of the day's break. Sergio Paulinho won in 2010, Thor Hushovd a year later, Rui Costa in 2013 and Rubén Plaza rode in alone in 2015. If there is a ray of light for the sprinters, it comes from the fact that each of those stages came into Gap via the Col de Manse, a second-category ascent that is almost 300 metres higher than the Sentinelle.
The organisers' choice of the Sentinelle may be a consequence of the Manse's tendency to produce an unexpected twist in the GC battle. In 2003, Joseba Beloki crashed out on the descent. In 2011, race leader Thomas Voeckler and contenders Andy and Frank Schleck all lost time to their rivals descending the Manse in the wet, while in 2015 Geraint Thomas crashed spectacularly when descending it after being accidently clipped by Warren Barguil. The Sentinelle should provide a testing, but more straightforward gateway to the high Alps, where the battle for the yellow jersey will be decided.
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