Tour de France: Miguel Angel Lopez wins stage 17 atop Col de la Loze

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) claimed the queen stage 17 of the Tour de France on the Col de la Loze, powering away from a select group on the punishingly steep slopes of the ascent to the Méribel ski station to celebrate the stage victory and a new third-place position in the overall standings.

Lopez played off a surge from Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss, who appeared not to notice that the race leader Primož Roglič was not on his wheel. As the Colombian powered away, Roglič cagily waited until Kuss looked back and waited, leaping across to the American and then jumping away from the only remaining rivals: Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who were unable to respond.

Roglič could not quite catch Lopez, finishing the stage 15 seconds behind, but importantly taking the time bonus and another 15 seconds on the best young rider and second-placed Pogačar to extend his advantage to a slightly more comfortable 57 seconds.

"It was a crazy hard here at the end," Roglič said. "The final three or four kilometres were brutal. You aren't happy when you come to the top, but I am really happy with it. I didn't win, but on the other hand, I gained some time in the GC so it was a rather nice day for me."

When asked if 57 seconds was enough to hold off Pogačar with several difficult stages still to come, the Slovenian said, "It's never enough. When you have five minutes you want 10 and when you have 10 you want more, but it's better to have 57 advantage than be 57 seconds behind."

It was an emotional stage victory for Lopez in his debut Tour de France and the result of a huge amount of lonely work during the coronavirus lockdown at his home in Colombia. The kilometres spent training at altitude clearly paid off on the upper slopes towering 2,304 metres above sea level. Now, half a world away, Lopez dedicated his victory to his family.

"I'm really happy and very emotional. We worked really hard for this and it wasn't easy to get there," Lopez said. "It's amazing, this is for my wife and son. It's hard being a long way away from them but this is my job. But I think of them all the time.

"We were confident because we knew the terrain suited us. It was over 2,000m of altitude, like being at home and so it was an opportunity for me, so we fought for this stage."

Pogačar said he struggled with the changing gradients in the final few kilometres, but overall, he said, "I'm happy with my performance, it was a really tough day. In that hard finale, I'm happy to not lose more time."

The yellow jersey "is still reachable", he said. "Tomorrow is another hard day. We'll see what we can do but I think we can be happy with how we rode so far. We will fight to the end. It was just that steep sections then flat sections - that was really hard for me today. Also, it was at altitude - one of the hardest final I've ever done."

Thanks to his effort on the final ascent and the Col de la Madeleine, where he took eight points for fifth, Pogačar added the polka dot jersey to his white jersey of best young rider. He said that wasn't the plan, but "if I'm in the grasp to take it I will take it. I'm happy to have two jerseys now. The objective is still the general classification, If I can't take yellow I can take this."

Lopez's efforts paid off with the overall podium coming into sight as he moved into third place over Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling), who tumbled down the standings to sixth, coming in 1:59 behind the stage winner. Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) moved into fourth and fifth, respectively.

On the first stage finishing at high altitude and with four kilometres of double-digit gradients on the newly paved cycle path to the summit, the cracks could have been much greater than they were. Only Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) fell apart completely. For the rest of the overall contenders, it was a matter of just giving everything and letting the gaps fall where they may.

"[It was] one of the first climbs we've really been at altitude so - a tough day," Yates said after coming in 1:20 behind Lopez in eighth behind Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren. "I hung in there as long as I could so I can be happy with that.

"Once we got into the last 7km we actually went pretty easy for the first bit. I think everyone was kind of saying they didn't know what to expect and then it was UAE started riding with a hard pace. From then on it was every man for themselves and I just hung on for as long as I could and yeah, I had a go, I guess."

Landa's team worked for much of the second half of the stage hoping to set the Spaniard up for an attack but once his last man sat up, the altitude bit in and he was unable to hold the pace of the yellow jersey group.

"It was a terrible, terrible climb because the gradient keeps changing," Landa's teammate Damiano Caruso said. "We showed we're a team. If you don't try, you never know. We gave our all and so we've no regrets. Landa didn't collapse, he gave his all and so that's OK."

How it unfolded

Riders woke up on Wednesday to face the queen stage of the Tour de France - some with eager anticipation of the opportunities to upend the general classification, some with the dread of having to haul themselves up two huge, 2,000m high mountains - the 17.1km-long Col de la Madeleine and the 21.5km-long Col de la Loze to the Méribel ski station ending on four of the hardest kilometres in the entire Tour de France with pitches kicking up to 24 per cent coming at over 2,000m in altitude. 

A tough day indeed. So much so that defending champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), who has been suffering from a back injury that led to overcompensation pain in his knee, abandoned the race before the stage began.

Fortunately, the riders had bright sunshine and a flattish first 88km to warm up for the challenge and focus first on the intermediate sprint bonus in La Rochette before the race for the mountains classification would kick in - with 20 points on the Madeleine and 40 on the final climb on offer, whoever could win the stage would finally unseat Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) from that polka dot jersey.

The race to get into the breakaway kicked off just as soon as Christian Prudhomme - back on the race after a week off with COVID-19 - dropped the flag. Ben Hermans (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) were the first to attack, and were joined by Krists Neilands (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis) but as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and Matteo Trentin (CCC Team) scrambled across with a squadron of hangers on the weight of so many passengers slowed the impetus and the 20-strong group was brought back by the peloton.

Ineos Grenadiers, desperate to salvage something out of this Tour de France, put their collective foot on the accelerator pedal, launching Dylan van Baarle in an attempt to shake out a breakaway. De Gendt went again to try and get a breakaway started, and this time he had more success - after 24km of flat-out racing and a bike change for Sagan, a group of 21 forged a gap: Richard Carapaz, Luke Rowe (Ineos), Felix Grossschartner, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mikael Cherel, Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Julian Alaphilippe, Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Laurent Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), Toms Skujins, Jasper Stuyvens (Trek-Segafredo), Gorka Izagirre (Astana), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), Søren Kragh Andersen, Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), Chris Juul Jensen (Mitchelton-Scott), Dan Martin, Nils Politt, Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Start-Up Nation), Roger Kluge, and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal).

But an unclassified climb at Saint-Pierre-d'Allevard reduced both the breakaway and the peloton behind, with the only survivors in the leading group Alaphilippe, Carapaz, Dan Martin, Kämna and Izagirre, and many of the sprinters forming a gruppetto only 30km into the stage. Not Sagan and Bennett, however, now that there was the possibility of points to be taken 45.5km into the stage. This kept the leaders to a gap of not much more than three minutes.

Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) tried but failed to make it across the gap in a frantic first hour of racing but never quite made it, while behind Bennett took the sprint for seventh, with teammate Michael Mørkøv edging out Sagan, giving Bennett two more points of advantage over Sagan in the green jersey classification.

The sprint over, the peloton eased up and settled in for the long haul, Impey came back, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) made it back into the bunch after struggling early on. The leaders had a gap of 6:00 as they hit the lower slopes of the first mountain. Jumbo-Visma led the peloton to the Col de la Madeleine but as the climb progressed, Bahrain McLaren came to the fore in force for Mikel Landa. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) lost contact early on the climb, his hopes long gone.

Kämna, suffering a bit after his stage 16 breakaway, had to relent midway up the Madeleine, leaving four riders at the head of the race and, as they approached the crest of the beastly mountain Carapaz put in a surge to take the maximum points at the top over Alaphilippe, Martin and Izagirre. In the peloton behind, Pogacar claimed the points for fifth after Kämna was caught, the chasing maillot jaune group at only 1:22 from the leaders at the top.

On the descent, Alaphilippe put his daredevil skills to good use to open a gap on his rivals, but found his match in Gorka Izagirre while Martin, who'd suffered a fractured sacrum in a crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné, was far more tentative and could not keep pace. Carapaz managed to scramble back across on a flatter section of the descent, however.

The polka dot jersey holder Cosnefroy notably lost contact with the yellow jersey group on the Madeleine but, thanks to some white-knuckle moments on the descent, managed to regain contact with the Bahrain McLaren led chasing group which was descending slightly slower than the Alaphilippe-led breakaway even after Damiano Caruso had to ask daredevil descender Matej Mohoric to stop opening gaps to Landa.

At the end of the descent, the three leaders had a 2:40 gap as Dan Martin drifted back into the maillot jaune group with 35km to go.

Nothing to lose on Col de la Loze

The mood in the leading trio darkened as thunder clouds began to form over Méribel, the cooperation between the leaders disintegrating like the shadows under the riders' wheels. Alaphilippe, hoping to wrest the polka dot jersey from Cosnefroy - who nearly came to a standstill on the early slopes of the final climb - surged with still almost 19km of climbing remaining but was quickly matched by Carapaz and Izagirre.

The lead group held its two-minute gap over the Bahrain McLaren-led chasing group but the efforts of Alaphilippe and Carapaz began to slowly melt under the pressure of Wout Poels' pace behind and, as they climbed up into the clouds, a light drizzle of rain began falling.

Not even halfway up the final climb, Pello Bilbao took over from Poels and upped the pace, distancing a number of helpers including Carlos Verona (Movistar), Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) and Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) and bringing the gap to the leaders down below the minute mark.

Ahead, Alaphilippe lost contact with Carapaz and Izagirre and was quickly reeled in by Bilbao and jettisoned out the back. As the chasers entered Méribel with 10km to go and the gradient began to kick up again, Bilbao's forcing had the maillot jaune group single file and Carapaz and Izagirre's lead down to 33 seconds. Roglič still had Wout van Aert, Tom Dumoulin and Sepp Kuss but lost George Bennett. Pogačar had De la Cruz, Mas with Valverde, but Urán, Yates, Lopéz, and Porte - after Elissonde threw in the towel - all were isolated, and 11th place Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) lost touch.

Izagirre let go of Carapaz with 9.1km still to climb, looking back to see how Lopez was faring and latching onto the back of the group for a few kilometres. The accumulated fatigue of the Tour de France and the pace of Bilbao began to really bite with 7km to go, and Izagirre and Van Aert lost contact. Bilbao finally swung off with 6.9km to go, handing the baton to Damiano Caruso.

The tension reached a pressure point as Caruso kept up the pace in hopes of isolating Roglič - the group down to just 13 riders. But the Italian's pace was not quite as hot as Bilbao's, and Carapaz's lead expanded even as the gradient pitched up underneath the Ecuadoran, going out to 40 seconds with 5.5km to go and the yellow jersey group stabilising.

Despite fans being banned from the climb because of the coronavirus surge, the roadsides were still littered with masked supporters shouting muffled words of encouragement as Carapaz reached the 'end of the road' and hit the horrific slopes of the cycle path that leads to the summit of the Col de la Loze with 42 seconds on the chasing group.

Caruso ran out of gas, Valverde lost touch, and De la Cruz came forward for Pogačar in the yellow jersey group, each remaining rider eyeing a chance for glory on the queen stage but holding back enough so as to not lose the Tour altogether.

After Bahrain McLaren did so much work throughout the stage, Landa came undone with 3.7km to go. Roglič lost Tom Dumoulin and then third-placed Urán too lost touch. Yates was the next to go on the steepest pitches. Soon Porte and Mas went backwards as Lopez put in a dig, bringing only Roglič, Pogačar and Kuss along.

Kuss came forward to set the pace for the race leader, dashing Ineos' dreams of a stage win. Carapaz, his face a rictus of pain, had no response as the American danced past with the Slovenian race leader on his wheel. So brisk was Kuss' pace that he opened a gap to the leader and Lopez took the bait - jumping across and opening up a fair gap to Roglič, Pogačar and now Porte, who'd made it back across.

Lopez forged ahead with 2.5km to go as Kuss finally realized that Roglič was losing ground. As the gradient levelled somewhat, Roglič attacked with 2.3km remaining and passed his teammate. The supposedly banned fans closing in in droves around the riders with 2km to go, while Pogačar had a bad moment, lost touch with the Jumbo-Visma rider, and had to shove a spectator out of his way.

"I was riding on the front and accelerated over the top on one of the [flatter] transitions," Kuss said. "I looked back and nobody was behind me actually. All of a sudden Lopez came across and I tried to stay with him but he was going really strong. At that point when I knew I was over the limit, I backed off and tried to pace Primož a little bit, accelerated with him."

Lopez pushed his chips all-in with the attack but he had a solo yellow jersey clad Slovenian former ski jumper leaping out of the saddle just 10 seconds behind. It wouldn't be the overall lead for the Astana rider but with Urán left behind, a final podium in Paris looked like a real possibility. In a possible preview of the uphill time trial to come, Lopez sped away to take the stage victory as Roglič extended his lead on Pogačar.

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PlaceRider (Country) TeamResult
1Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Astana Pro Team04:49:08
2Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma00:00:15
3Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates00:00:30
4Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma00:00:56
5Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo00:01:01
6Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team00:01:12
7Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:01:20
8Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott00:01:20
9Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Pro Cycling00:01:59
10Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma00:02:13
11Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers00:02:41
12Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team00:02:48
13Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain McLaren00:03:30
14Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis00:03:59
15Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ00:04:09
16Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Trek-Segafredo00:06:12
17Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Movistar Team00:06:53
18David De la Cruz Melgarejo (Spa) UAE Team Emirates00:07:15
19Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma00:07:15
20Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic00:07:15
21Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team00:08:19
22Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:09:10
23Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Pro Cycling00:09:49
24Benoit Cosnefroy (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:12:14
25Robert Gesink (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma00:15:33
26Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:18:05
27George Bennett (NZl) Team Jumbo-Visma00:18:26
28Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates00:18:40
29Michael Gogl (Aut) NTT Pro Cycling00:19:00
30Omar Fraile Matarranz (Spa) Astana Pro Team00:19:08
31Daniel Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation00:20:05
32Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain McLaren00:20:36
33Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:21:28
34Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ00:21:28
35Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ00:21:28
36Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:21:28
37Lennard Kämna (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe00:21:47
38Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ00:21:51
39Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain McLaren00:22:04
40Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal00:22:26
41Romain Sicard (Fra) Total Direct Energie00:22:29
42Niklas Eg (Den) Trek-Segafredo00:23:10
43Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe00:23:33
44Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team00:24:08
45Dayer Quintana (Col) Team Arkea-Samsic00:25:17
46Nairo Quintana (Col) Team Arkea-Samsic00:25:17
47Quentin Pacher (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept00:25:17
48Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Ineos Grenadiers00:25:17
49Cyril Barthe (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept00:25:17
50Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R la Mondiale00:25:17
51Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team Sunweb00:25:17
52Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation00:25:17
53Ryan Gibbons (RSA) NTT Pro Cycling00:25:17
54Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team Sunweb00:25:17
55Hugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team00:25:17
56Michael Schär (Swi) CCC Team00:25:17
57Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team00:25:17
58Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers00:25:17
59Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Groupama-FDJ00:25:17
60Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team00:25:17
61Pierre Rolland (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept00:25:17
62Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team00:25:17
63Cyril Gautier (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept00:25:17
64Maxime Chevalier (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept00:25:17
65Daniel Felipe Martinez Poveda (Col) EF Pro Cycling00:25:26
66Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott00:25:26
67Nans Peters (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:25:26
68Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates00:25:26
69Winner Anacona (Col) Team Arkea-Samsic00:25:40
70Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic00:25:48
71Connor Swift (GBr) Team Arkea-Samsic00:25:48
72Krists Neilands (Lat) Israel Start-Up Nation00:25:52
73Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe00:25:52
74Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott00:25:52
75Neilson Powless (USA) EF Pro Cycling00:25:52
76José Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team00:25:59
77Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis00:25:59
78Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team00:26:01
79Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain McLaren00:26:06
80Tony Martin (Ger) Team Jumbo-Visma00:26:06
81Jens Keukeleire (Bel) EF Pro Cycling00:26:08
82Tejay Van Garderen (USA) EF Pro Cycling00:26:08
83Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott00:26:08
84Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis00:26:08
85Simon Geschke (Ger) CCC Team00:26:32
86Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) Total Direct Energie00:26:37
87Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe00:26:42
88Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:26:46
89Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) NTT Pro Cycling00:27:25
90Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb00:27:25
91Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe00:27:30
92Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie00:27:32
93Clément Russo (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic00:27:40
94Harold Alfonso Tejada Canacue (Col) Astana Pro Team00:28:17
95Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team00:28:17
96Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation00:28:17
97Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation00:28:23
98Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:28:23
99Michael Valgren (Den) NTT Pro Cycling00:28:25
100Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo00:28:25
101Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sunweb00:28:27
102Mathieu Burgaudeau (Fra) Total Direct Energie00:28:29
103Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo00:28:30
104Jack Bauer (NZl) Mitchelton-Scott00:28:30
105Bob Jungels (Lux) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:28:32
106Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe00:28:38
107Jan Hirt (Cze) CCC Team00:28:38
108Marc Hirschi (Swi) Team Sunweb00:28:41
109Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Pro Cycling00:28:44
110Dario Cataldo (Ita) Movistar Team00:28:45
111Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo00:29:05
112Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo00:29:05
113Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:29:09
114Jonas Koch (Ger) CCC Team00:29:12
115Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe00:29:16
116Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) Ineos Grenadiers00:29:16
117Andrey Amador (CRc) Ineos Grenadiers00:29:16
118Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Cofidis00:29:20
119Fabien Grellier (Fra) Total Direct Energie00:29:22
120Nils Politt (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation00:29:24
121Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott00:29:26
122Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb00:29:26
123Casper Phillip Pedersen (Den) Team Sunweb00:29:26
124Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) CCC Team00:29:29
125Dries Devenyns (Bel) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:29:37
126Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal00:29:40
127Amund Grøndahl Jansen (Nor) Team Jumbo-Visma00:29:44
128Guy Niv (Isr) Israel Start-Up Nation00:29:47
129Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis00:29:49
130Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers00:30:09
131Luke Rowe (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers00:30:09
132Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:30:22
133Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:30:22
134Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-Quickstep00:30:22
135Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie00:30:22
136Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis00:30:32
137Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis00:30:32
138Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates00:30:32
139Maximilian Walscheid (Ger) NTT Pro Cycling00:30:56
140Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates00:31:04
141Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal00:31:13
142Roger Kluge (Ger) Lotto Soudal00:31:13
143Matteo Trentin (Ita) CCC Team00:31:49
144Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal00:32:09