The last time a stage of the Tour de France finished in Serre Chevalier was in 1993. Tony Rominger won that day though it was the first mountain stage of the Tour unlike one of the last this year. Miguel Indurain, the dominate rider of the 90s, finished second on the stage. He had taken the yellow jersey at the individual time-trial the day before and would carry it all the way to Paris. It would be his third straight Tour victory. Chris Froome, the dominant rider of this decade, finished third today. He is hoping to carry yellow on into Paris too now for what would be the third straight time, and fourth in all.
Froome’s time-trial is still to come but the distance against the clock is much less these days. As such the time gaps are tighter. It may have only be the 10th stage that year, but Indurain already led the second place man by more than 3 minuets. Froome went to bed last night with less than half a minute lead over two men. The similarities are there though. The man in second place in ’93 was Colombian Alvaro Mejia; this year it is his compatriot, Rigoberto Uran. Mejia would go on to finish 4th that year with Rominger coming up to second. Uran will be hoping for better.
On the same time as Uran here in 2017 is Romain Bardet. Fabio Aru had been second until today but lost contact near the top of the Galibier. On the descent his rivals kept the hammer down and the Italian could not bridge across. By the finish he had conceded 31 seconds to Froome and dropped to 4th place.
I would like to say he might try recover those loses on tomorrow’s final mountain stage, but Aru appears to be fading. He either peaked too early for this Tour, with his win on stage five, or the lack of team support has caught up with him. He has lost several team mates with injury and it has cost him on days when he needed help staying at the front. On Tuesday’s stage when the cross-winds blew, Froome had team support to keep him well positioned. Aru made the split but had to support himself. Those efforts, while removed from the high mountains, have a way of catching up with you.
Up ahead of all this though was the man who won the stage. Not quite the Tony Rominger of 2017, but Primos Roglic put in a ride anyone would be proud of. He got into the early break and was the last man standing.
It was the standard kind of break and, as expected, it contained Michael Matthews. The Sunweb rider wasn’t looking for a stage win but the intermediate sprint points. He got them and reduced his deficit to the green jersey of Marcel Kittel to nine points. Then news came over race radio that it was all for nothing. Kittel who had crashed earlier on the stage had abandoned the Tour. I have to wonder if Matthews will be relieved or disappointed that he no longer has to fight for it? It will save him having to go up the road today to take more points. A jersey competition that looked to be coming down to Paris, was over as quick as a Kittel sprint finish.
With that in mind Matthews soon dropped back. Moving up the road though was Alberto Contador. He put in a mighty effort to bridge across and it cost him later. He flew up the Col de la Croix de Fer putting in the fastest ever time recorded there and got across. But on the lower slopes of the Galibier he had a mechanical that required a bike change and that interrupted his rhythm. He never never quite found it again.
It left Roglic to attack alone and push for stage glory. And if Roglic looked like he was dropping off the edge of the Galibier today like a ski-jumper, then that is because he was. He became the first Solvenian to win a stage of the Tour de France and, I presume, the first former ski-jumper to do so as well. He made his move on the way up that climb and in superb style he held off the yellow jersey group to win.
Tomorrow will see a similar large group attack. From that we may well get the stage winner, but the battle for yellow is intense and that effort there might contain any early move. Froome need only follow the attacks, but I get the sense he is getting stronger. He will want a stage win for himself. By my reckoning, Bardet and Uran will need to put between 60 and 90 seconds into him. It’s a big ask but it will make for a fascinating stage. And no descents after the final climb today. It’s a summit finish for the first time on the mighty Col d’Izoard.
General classification after stage 17:
1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 73h27’26”
2. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +27″
3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) same time
4. Fabio Aru (Astana) +53″
5. Mikel Landa (Sky) +1’24”
6. Dan Martin (Quick-Step) + 2’37”