Tag Archives: Fabio Aru

Roglic rides to glory; Matthews takes green; Aru loses time

The top 3 on GC battle for 2nd on the stage (Bettini Photo)

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.

Continue reading Roglic rides to glory; Matthews takes green; Aru loses time


Froome wrestles back yellow and then almost loses it again

I was out on the bike on Saturday morning so missed the live coverage of the stage. Looking at the profile I had hedged my bets. It looked like a stage for exciting racing, but without too much in the way of major climbing. I felt it was unlikely that the balance of the race itself might swing. But as I swung into a small town and pulled over at a coffee shop, I pulled out my phone and seen the notification: “Froome back in yellow.”

What on earth had happened? I bought my tea and a butter tart, and sat down to catch up.

From what I could gather on the run in to Rodez, and towards the ramp up to the line, Fabio Aru had been isolated. His Astana team, broken and decimated by injury, were missing again. In stark contrast, the Sky team were all around Chris Froome. They kept him near the front while Aru slipped towards the rear. It takes a lot of effort to stay at the front and trying to do so without the protection of a team expends a lot of energy. After getting worked over the day before, but maintaining his jersey, Aru had to be tired.

Froome’s domestique and bodyguard elect, Michal Kwiatkowski noticed Aru isolated. He called on the radio for Froome to smash it and the Sky leader pushed for the line. Michael Matthews gave the Sunweb team their second victory in-a-row, and Froome came in 7th a second behind. 25 seconds later, Aru limped over the line, exposed and out of yellow.

The balance of this Tour had once again flipped in favour of Froome by 18 seconds. Romain Bardet lost 4 seconds to Froome and so now finds himself 5 seconds out of second place. Two others alert to the damage were Rigoberto Uran and Dan Martin who finished with Froome. Uran is putting together a very impressive Tour and is now within half a minute of yellow. Written off or overlooked by many, his performance in France may come as a surprise to some, but it shouldn’t.

You need a strong team to win the Tour and this proved it once more. Aru’s Astana team are struggling and it could be the difference in him not winning this race. As an individual, Aru has rode very well. He looks strong and well matched to Froome on the climbs. But it’s on days like this he remains vulnerable.

Take what happened the following day as another example of the benefits of a strong team. Froome had another mechanical at the worst possible time, and this time there was no waiting. We’re too deep into the race now for unwritten rules. A quick wheel change by his domestique turned mechanic, Kwiatkowski, got him on his way, but he was 45 seconds behind. Froome encouraged Landa to remain in the pack up front while other Sky riders worked on pacing Froome back. As they went up the category one climb of the Col de Peyra Taillade, the gap began to reduce. Bardet’s AG2R team kept the hammer down on the front, but the strength of Team Sky was evident. On the way up they blew past the fast fading Nario Quintana. His effort on Friday doomed to be that of a stage hunt rather than a realistic bid to get back into GC contention. Once Froome was alone, but not far behind, Landa dropped back to help him pull up to the rear of the pack. Job done. They crested the climb and from there it was about consolidating.

Had Froome gone over the top still off the back of the group, I doubt he would have got back on. His Tour might have been in tatters. It was a testament to his team and his own strength, and leadership, that this didn’t happen. It was a smart call to leave Landa in the group ahead. Had Froome failed to get back on, Landa, still well positioned on GC after some strong racing in the days before would still be in the mix. But with Froome getting back up and having spent through his team mates, he could still call Landa back for the final push. And when back in, Froome still had a team mate and wasn’t left isolated. It quietened the suggestions that Landa has gone rogue. He is still part of the Sky plan.

Froome looked vulnerable at times in the second week of this Tour but looks to be coming good now. He is peaking at the perfect time, or so it seems. He had been well short of his usual standards in the pre-Tour tune up races and it left people doubting his form. One explanation for this was that Froome was looking to peak later in the Tour. With a lot of sprint stages in the early going, Froome was going to try survive the early climbing stages and ride into his best form. Now with the third week looming, and facing a crisis on the  Taillade, Froome’s strength shone through. He flew up that climb to regain contact. Had he not had the mechanical and instead attacked them, who knows what shape this race would now be in?

But that is hypothetical. So is my theory on Froome’s condition. The next few days will answer to what form his is in. Another hypothetical is where Dan Martin would be had he not crashed on stage 9? The Irishman jumped off the front yet again today to steal back 9 seconds. That is 18 seconds he has taken on two stages over three days. In that crash in which he fell over Richie Porte, Martin lost 1 minute, 15 seconds. As things stand he is 1 minute, 12 seconds behind Froome. Of course, the reality is that had he not crashed his move on Sunday would have been shut down immediately. He has gotten a little more freedom thanks to how compact the standings are in front of him. But what is evident is that Martin is in superb form. His rivals have yet to drop him. His only time loss has been as a result of that crash.

Up ahead on Sunday’s stage, a large 28 man pack that had escaped earlier in the day would decide the stage winner. Bauke Mollema made the timely move with 29km to go, attacking on the descent of that final big climb to forge ahead. The chase came too late and the Dutchman stayed clear to take his first Tour stage victory. This time last year Mollema was sitting second on GC and the biggest threat to Froome. That all came tumbling down in the final week. This year Mollema has come looking for stage wins. Now he has one and they can never take that away from him.

And so to a rest day today and how they need it. Tomorrow is a stage that should favour a breakaway though could end up in a bunch sprint and thus win number six for Marcel Kittel. Then it’s into the high Alps and come Thursday evening I’d be shocked if the standings are still as tight as they are now. This is the tightest a Tour has ever been for the yellow jersey this far into the race. It’s been a terrific show so far and I get the sense that the best is yet to come.

General classification after stage 15:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 64h40’21”

2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +18″

3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +23″

4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +29″

5. Dan Martin (Quick-Step) +1’12”

6. Mikel Landa (Sky) +1’17”

Fireworks on Bastille Day: A French winner and more contenders for GC

What a frantic day. A 101km stage across three category one climbs. It had all the makings of a classic, and so it proved to be. Fireworks across the mountains on Bastille Day. Attacks at the sharp end of the general classification, and a French winner to boot. The first such winner on July 14th since David Moncoutié in 2005.

Warren Barguil will be the toast of France in his polka-dot jersey. What a courageous ride it was as the drama and action for the yellow jersey blew up around him.

It was a stage tailor made for an ambush, but who would have thought the ambush would come from within? Or at least that is how it looked when Mikel Landa shot up the road at the first opportunity with Alberto Contador. The two Spaniard’s illuminating the race. When we first seen this stage we thought right away about Contador. His kind of day but a shame as it turned out that he was so far down on GC. But Landa wasn’t.

Rumours had blown up over night about who exactly Landa was riding for? Himself or his team leader, Chris Froome? It’s still hard to say because the move in itself to go up the road was a good tactic by Sky. It put the onus on others to work and chase. It allowed Froome to sit in. Michal Kwaitkowski also went in a move with Barguil and Nairo Quintana. The Colombian, like Contador, out to salvage some pride after a rough Tour thus far.

Froome is a hard man to read though. On each climb, in particular the final climb of the Mur de Peguere, he looked to be in trouble. That pained expression, the constant glances down at the bike computer, and momentary gaps between the wheels. And yet right when you expected him to crack, under the relentless pace being set by Dan Martin, he attacked. The attacks didn’t stick, but they where there nonetheless and the rest did no attacks of their own.

Up ahead Barguil and Quintana dropped Kwiatkowski and set out in hunt of the Spaniards. They caught them right at the top of that final climb and the four set about the descent together. At one point the lead held by Landa was enough to put him into the yellow jersey on the road. By the decent though the gap had come down, but not by a lot. Aru, without any team support and isolated, decided to focus on Froome. It may result on more men coming into contention for this Tour, but at least it might keep him in yellow.

Froome and Bardet wouldn’t give the Italian an easy ride though. Both took turns attacking on the descent but it was a gentle drop off the mountain and gaps were hard to come by. Froome would go, then sit up, followed by Bardet. Dan Martin got back on when the hesitancy to set a defined pace slowed the group. That also pushed the lead of those ahead back out to two minutes. With Kwiatkowski by his side by now, Froome tried to launch a two-up attack, but Aru was alert.

If anything though, this was working Aru over. They may not get him on this day, but Aru might pay for it later. Froome looked strong again. It is so hard to call, but I’m starting to think that it’s the sharp gradient climbs that Froome is struggling with. His big motor finds it hard to get up to the speed of the pure climbers on those short bursts. It cost him yesterday and it might have explained the pained moments today. Now with the downhill and the smooth run in, he could get back to his best. If he could only create a gap he might yet time-trial away. Instead it was Dan Martin who got the gap. Not far behind on GC, but not an immediate threat they let him go and he was soon joined by Simon Yates. The pair wary of Landa and Quintana pushing them down the classification.

As the kilometres ticked off fast, the advantage of the four ahead was slow to come down. Barguil, with nothing to gain on GC but a stage to win, was happy to sit on the back. Contador too. Landa, and even Quintana, had gains to make and kept the pace high.

It was with that in mind that Froome and Kwiatkowski gave up the attacks on Aru and went about setting the pace. This seemed odd. In doing so they may have been costing their man a shot at yellow. Better to leave Aru exposed, you might think? But Froome is the team leader at Sky and there is a bigger picture to look at. Stages 17 and 18 look more suited to Froome in this Tour, and only six seconds back on Aru, he must still feel in control.  It might suit Sky to pull Landa up the classification, and add another worry for Astana, but not by too much. He might serve as a plan B, but it was far from time to turn to plan B. Not yet. But Landa in the mix could allow Sky to play the double act. The kind we’ve Movistar play with Quintana and Alejandro Valverde in the past. Take turns attacking and soften up Aru.

Beyond that Sky will not have wanted yellow back on someone other than Froome’s shoulders. Expectation would then fall on Sky to work and to defend and in doing so, wear down Froome’s key lieutenants.

As it stands the onus will still be on Astana to control the race, for Aru to mark moves. And as they rolled into Foix so the list of contenders in this Tour grew. Barguil came around Contador in fine style to take the sprint, but it was Quintana and Landa who would be looking at the clock. And as things now stand, seven men are within 2 minutes 7 seconds of Aru. The seventh of these, in eighth place, is Quintana. Dangerous again with those 17th and 18th stages also suited to him and another reason Froome had Sky push towards the end today. And Martin was right to worry. Landa move ahead of him up to fifth, 1’09” behind. Had Dan Martin not crashed over Richie Porte on that stage 9 descent to Chambery, he would be in a podium position only 7 seconds behind Aru. The “what if’s” of the Tour.

This Tour is so wide open and so hard to call. So many questions remind unanswered, not least the status of Landa and the absolute form of Froome. The idea that it is anything other than thrilling is alien to me. Too many wrote it off after a handful of sprint stages. But anytime there has been climbing to do, the action has come a plenty. The fear too that after nine stages this Tour was already over with Sky in control and Froome too strong, is long gone. It as a silly suggestion to begin with. Sky are still a strong team and Froome may yet prove the best, but the rest see a man they believe they can beat. The fear is no longer there.

So much is up for grabs now and the best is still to come. We are in for one of the most exciting third weeks of a Tour in recent memory.

General classification after stage 13:

1. Fabio Aru (Astana) in 55h30’06”

2. Chris Froome (Sky) +6″

3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +25″

4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +35″

5. Mikel Landa (Sky) +1’9″

6. Dan Martin (Quick-Step) +1’32”

7. Simon Yates (Orica) +2’4″

8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2’7″

9. Louis Meintjes (UAE) +4’51”

10. Alberto Contador (Trek) +5’22”

Change in yellow…Tour blown wide open!

A change in the race lead shouldn’t come as a major surprise. I mean, Fabio Aru did only trail Chris Froome by 18 seconds coming into the stage. And yet, I’m still shocked that it has happened, and I don’t quite know why? Aru has looked excellent thus far in this race, winning a stage, while Froome has failed to isolate the Italian when given the chance. With the stage win going to Romain Bardet ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Aru two seconds behind in third and Froome 7th at 22 seconds, Aru is into yellow. He leads Froome now by 6 seconds. Bardet is still in third, but only 25 seconds behind, with Uran a further 30 seconds back.

The big losers on the day were Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Jakob Fuglsang. Quintana lost 2’04” and is now 8th at 4’01” on GC, Contador lost 2’15” and is 11th at 7’14”, while the injured Fuglsang lost 27’42”.

The change in race lead means Sky have lost the jersey for the first time this race. Had they gone from start to finish in the lead it would have been the first time since the Faeme team did it in 1970. Tomorrow will be the first time in 26 stages dating back to last years Tour that a Sky rider hasn’t held the jersey. Beyond that, it is the first time Froome has lost the race lead to another rider since stage 4 of the 2015 Tour when Tony Martin took the race lead. He had never lost it to a GC rival before today.

Do you get the sense that the tide is shifting?

Anyone who dismissed this Tour as over when Froome donned the yellow jersey last week, will now find themselves crawling back to see what is going to happen. With four men within a minute of the race lead this is setting itself up as one of the closest Tour battles in years. Froome has a fight on his hands if he wants a fourth title. With a time-trial to come on stage 20, Froome might yet be good for at least another minute, but there is a lot of climbing between now and then.

Tomorrow’s stage is a mere 101km in length but includes three category one climbs before a downhill finish. The pace will be frantic from the start as riders look to isolate one another. It was a stage I felt that Froome’s rivals might try to isolate him. As it turns out it might be the stage Sky need to isolate the rest.

Froome still looks a gear below is best. The argument will be whether he can find that gear or not. Was today his bad day, or is it a sign? There has been a suggestion that Froome is riding himself into top form this year, highlighted by the fact he was below the boil in the tune-up races. The thought is that he will peak for the third week and explode on the likes of stages 17 and 18. On the other hand Froome might already have hit his peak and may need to find other ways to out smart his opponents. We already seen shades of that last year. And it will be a big ask to do, as Aru is looking strong and there is no reason to suggest he will fade as the race goes on. Stages 16 and 17 will suit him too, with stage 17 in particular looking good for Bardet. That descent alone could see him net 30 seconds if he plays it right.

Everything will be won and lost and it looks now as though the time-trial will play a factor. Whether it will see Froome having to regain time remains to be see in the days ahead. The first half of this Tour may have belonged to the sprinters as people yawned their way through repetitive flat stages, but the narrative is turning towards the GC men now.

This Tour is wide open.

General classification after stage 12:

1. Fabio Aru (Astana) in 52h51’49”

2. Chris Froome (Sky) +6″

3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +25″

4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +55″

5. Dan Martin (Quickstep) +1’41”

6. Simon Yates (Orica) +2’13”

Crashes, attacks, and controversy: Two wild days in the mountains at the Tour

Coming into stage 8 on Saturday morning there were eight men within a minute of Chris Froome’s yellow jersey. By the time they went to bed on Sunday night, ready for a rest day, that number was down to three. And while some fell away in the standings, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, well placed coming into the weekend, fell away on the road and had to abandon.

The yellow jersey came through unscathed with two crucial days ticked off in his bid to defend his title. His lead is only 18 seconds but in hindsight, with all we seen, he’ll take it. Likewise might his now closest rivals, Fabio Aru at 18 seconds, Romain Bardet at 51 seconds, and the surprising Rigoberto Uran at 55 seconds. Of them, Aru courted controversy, Bardet animated Sunday and Uran took a stage win. It was a weekend that threw up so many talking points as the race hit the high mountains. Eight categorised climbs over the two stages, of which four were category one or higher.

Saturday’s stage, while full of action, belonged for the most part to the stage hunters. Lilian Calmejane of the Direct Energie team was the one who survived and made his name. He bridged gaps throughout the day and then struck out solo. Robert Gesink was his closest rival, but not even a serious cramp near the finish could stop him. It was his first stage win on his first Tour de France. Gesink rolled in 37 seconds later. The GC group led by another young French talent, Guillaume Martin came in at 50 seconds.

Few GC men put in any serious attacks on the stage. It didn’t led itself to that given the final climb peaked some 12 kilometres from the finish. You could say it was down to Sky’s hard tempo that left the rest unable to move, but Calmejane only lost a handful of seconds on the final climb. In reality, with a huge stage on Sunday, nobody wanted to burn out any matches. A sign of the the times in 2017 that monster efforts on back-to-back days are hard to make. Not with so much racing in the weeks ahead.

And so to Sunday and the action came thick and fast. The early break went up the road in the hopes of doing what Calmejane done the day before, but they wouldn’t last. That is except for Warren Barguil, but we’ll get to him. All the talking points revolved around those riding for the GC.

The first HC climb of this Tour was the Col de la Biche. Too far out for any damage on the uphill, but on the way back down, with wet patches under the tree canopy, a crash brought down Geraint Thomas. He was sitting second coming in but had to abandon with a broken collarbone. It left Froome down a crucial lieutenant.

Things settled over the Colombier but exploded on the Mont du Chat. By the time they would leave its viscous slopes, any dramas from days before would long be forgotten.

On the way up, Froome threw his arm in the air to signal a mechanical problem. At the same moment, his now nearest rival in the standings, Fabio Aru, nipped under his armpit and attacked. It was a blatant display of unsportsmanlike conduct as you’re like to see. A moment of panic descended over the face of Froome who must have had visions of Mont Ventoux in 2016 all over again. Was help not coming? Was he going to have to run again? I thought it myself, for an instant, before the team car came to his aid.

The others followed Aru and soon remonstrated with the Italian who relented his effort. Aru didn’t have to wait on Froome, but Aru shouldn’t have attacked him either. He would later claim that he didn’t know Froome had a problem, but unless he thought Froome was waving to fans, I’m not sure what else he thought was going on?

Froome soon regained contact. A video then emerged that appeared to show Froome shoulder barging Aru off to the side of the road. Froome would deny the intention, saying he lost his balance, but it didn’t look that way. It was the kind of response to the move by Aru that Bernard Hinault would have been proud of. It wasn’t violent, but there was a message in it.

The silly stuff ended there because then the attacks began. Each man appeared to take a turn to lay into the Sky leader, but each time he responded. And then he went himself and the group shrank to Aru, Romain Bardet, Richie Porte, Dan Martin and Rigoberto Uran. Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador were noticeable by their absence. Yet while the group had shrank, Froome was not out on his own as he might have been in the past with such an attack. Had this been a full blown effort, or only one to reduce the field? With a descent to come and a long run-in to the finish, did he want to be staking out alone? As it was, the small group hit the descent together with only Barguil still up the road.

Froome moved to the front on the descent and put the pressure on. I doubt the intention was to force anyone into a mistake that might lead to a crash, but if he could gap a few more rivals, he would take it. But the crashing did come and in horrific fashion for Porte and Martin. Porte overshot a turn and bounced across the road and into a rock face. Martin had nowhere to go and went down with him. The Irishman was up soon enough and on his way, but Porte didn’t move. It looked bad. Porte was out of the Tour, but it could have been a lot worse.

I’m not sure whether the crash unnerved Froome, but he scaled back his effort and it was the unflappable Bardet who took over. The Frenchman is one of the best descender’s in the pack and he knows these roads well. He had built up a healthy gap by the bottom, had the stage finished there and not with a flat 13.5km run in to Chambery, he might even have taken over the race lead.

Instead a pursuit ensued. Bardet put up a valiant effort and caught and past Barguil who dropped back to the chasing group. Froome, isolated and in yellow, should have had to chase alone, but instead Astana team mates Fuglsang and Aru, along with Uran, give him help. They reeled in Bardet and in the six man sprint, Uran hung on to the fast moving Barguil to take it in a photo finish. Uran’s victory was all the more special given that in an earlier crash he had broken his rear derailleur and was stuck with only two gears.

The stopwatch told the damage. Martin, Quintana and Simon Yates all lost 1 minute 15 seconds while Contador lost 4 minutes 19 seconds. Beyond that, and I mean, way beyond Contador’s time, seven men came in outside the time limit. The biggest name was that of Arnaud Demare who took three team mates with him. His green jersey ambitions gone.

It was a rough day for some, an awful day for others, and for the likes of Froome, Aru and Bardet, a day of close calls and drama but no major loses. People will debate the inclusion of such descents in the race long into the night. But descents have always been in the Tour. It’s up to each rider to decide how to race them and nobody has to take risks. Luck comes into it – ask Dan Martin about that – but the Tour is a rounded test of fitness, attrition, nerves and skill.

As the tears streamed from the exahusted face of Barguil who thought he had won the stage, so the rest of us tried to catch our breath. There had been non-stop action and drama. Those who said they were turning off after the disqualification of Peter Sagan might be regretting that now. That controversy seems a long time ago and yet we’re only nine stages in. The Tour has always been about the mountains and today proved why. The riders have earned their rest day now, and to tell you the truth, I’m glad of it too!

Standings after stage 9:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 38h 26’28”

2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +18″

3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +51″

4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +55″

5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +1’37”

6. Dan Martin (Quickstep) +1’44”

8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2’13”
12. Alberto Contador (Trek) +5’15”

The Tour moves on and so does the yellow jersey

The Tour de France moves at a frantic pace, and not only on the road. Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip wrapper, as the old saying goes. Yesterday morning the papers in France led with the Sagan-Cavendish incident, but today it is already old news. It was the first summit finish of the Tour, and the climbers have taken over the narrative.

The first mountain stage will do that. Everything that has gone before no longer matters. Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish may be two of the faces of the sport, but we all know the Tour belongs to those who can ride in the mountains. The incident that eliminated the pair will live long in the memory, and go down in Tour history, but the race goes on. It always does.

By the time yesterday’s stage had come to an end, there was a change in yellow and a reshaping of the general classification.

The Planche des belles filles is a new finish in Tour history, but it seems to prove significant. The first time it finished there in 2012, Chris Froome picked up his first win. Bradley Wiggins moved into yellow that day and would go on to win the Tour. Two years later, Italian champion Vincenzo Nibali won the stage and took yellow. He too went on to win that years Tour. And yesterday it was once again the Italian national champion, Fabio Aru, taking the stage glory. But it was Chris Froome who pulled on the yellow and by now you can see the pattern? Yes, the man in yellow here the first two times, was the man in yellow come Paris. Other than that, it is starting to prove a popular finish for Italian champions.

But don’t rule out Aru yet. Don’t rule out several riders yet. Less than a minute separates the first nine. Froome may be back in his familiar yellow, but there is a long road ahead. So many questions may remain unanswered, but what we did get was a guide to the form of some and lack thereof of others.

Aru is hot. Dan Martin looked strong, finishing second and snatching back a few seconds. Richie Porte looked decent, though why he had his team on the front all day, giving Sky a break, I don’t quite know? Romain Bardet also looked solid on a climb that wouldn’t have suited his talents best. Froome’s team-mate, Geraint Thomas, coughed up yellow in servitude to Froome. He might have come to the front a little earlier than he might have liked and it cost him extra time when he blew, though he still clung onto second place.

Then there was Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador. Both coughed up time and neither looked comfortable. Both are still within a minute of Froome, but the time loss, while small, was telling. Both will no doubt try to ambush Froome down the road somewhere; it worked in Spain last year.

Aru, Porte, Bardet and Martin will also have to get creative. Summit finishes are few and far between on this Tour and yesterday Froome ticked one off the list. A summit finish closer to Paris and a fourth title. Bardet, beyond Contador and Quintana, might prove the biggest danger at this kind of thing. Attacks from further out, attacks over the top of climbs to try gain time on descents. The only problem being, last year Froome himself proved capable of snatching time from odd places.

The strength of Sky will be vital for Froome, but when there’s only a few seconds at stake, anything can happen. As such this Tour is far from over. There is still so much up for grabs. All the drama will still be in the days to come.

The following day, today, was a one for the climbers to hide once more as the racing reverted back to the sprinters. No Cavendish or Sagan, though not that it mattered to Marcel Kittel even when they were both in the race. He once again proved the fastest man in the bunch when he burst through late to win. In doing so he became the first man to win two stages at this years Tour. He also moved to within 27 points of Arnaud Demare in the green jersey competition.

Speaking of Demare, today’s sprint highlighted the fine margins of such a discipline. Two days ago, Cavendish went for the shrinking gap and never got through. Today, Demare made almost the same move, but it stayed opened and he squeezed through. For a few short seconds I was sure he was going to hit the barrier and go down. He didn’t and he got second and the race goes on. That’s sprinting.

And the sprinters should get another shot tomorrow. It’s another ‘off day’ for the GC men before the weekend when the sparks should fly once more. After six stages, the standings of this Tour sit as follows…

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 23h44’33”

2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +12″

3. Fabio Aru (Astana) +14″

4. Dan Martin (Quick-Step) +25″

5. Richie Porte (BMC) +39″

6. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) +43″

7. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +47″

8. Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) +52″

9. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +54″

10. Rafal Majka (Bora) +1’1″

Froome wins uphill time-trial as battle for podium place grows tighter

Baring a disaster of epic proportions, the battle for the yellow jersey is over. Still, the fight for a place alongside Froome on the podium in Paris has rarely been closer or involved so many riders. In what is becoming a Tour much like 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali ran away with the win and a handful of others fought out for the lower podium spoils, this year we have five men positioned from 2nd to 6th sitting within 1 minute 8 seconds of one another after an uphill time-trial that Froome won and the top six remained unchanged but seen a dramatic tightening of the pack behind the Sky rider. Richie Porte continues his third week surge while the likes of Bauke Mollema and Nairo Quintana are very much on the defensive.

Yesterday I said that after today Chris Froome could be leading the Tour by four minutes. He’s not, but he is just eight seconds short of that mark thanks to a mightily impressive ride over the 17km mostly uphill individual time-trial. He timed his effort to perfection, getting stronger as the course went on whereas his rivals slowly faded.

A look at the various time splits gives an idea as to how well Froome measured his effort. At the 6.5km check he trailed the best time of Richie Porte by 23sec, with Porte himself 9sec better off than Dumoulin. By the 10km check it was Dumoulin leading Porte by 9sec with Froome just 1sec further back. 3.5km later at the final check Froome took the lead for the first time, 13sec ahead of Dumoulin with Porte at 22sec. And then on the line, the win for Froome, 21sec ahead of Dumoulin and 33sec ahead of Porte. Another who measured their ride well was Fabio Aru. At each time-check he trailed Porte by 25sec, 14sec and 7sec respectively, and finished on the same time as the Australian.

Froome had staked a lot on this stage before the Tour and knew the course inside out by the time the day arrived, conscious that this late in the race a lot could be won or lost here. As it turned out it in reality it wasn’t a stage that would affected his overall standings after all, but he was still fully committed. He’d done all that work, he might as well try and win it. Prior to the stage Froome had gotten his yellow jersey skin suit tailor made to fit, leaving nothing to chance despite the strong lead coming in.

By the time he hit the line he had won the stage with relative ease and he could likely have worn his regular kit and still been safe with the victory. With their impressive rides Aru moved up to 7th overall, 1min 8sec behind Porte who is now just 44sec away from third place.

Standings after stage 18:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 77h55’53”

2. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) @ 3’52”

3. Adam Yates (Orica BikeExchange) @ 4’16”

4. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 4’37”

5. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 4’57”

6. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 5’00”

7. Fabio Aru (Astana) @ 6’08”