Following yesterday’s stage, Rigoberto Uran and George Bennett where each accessed a 20 second time penalty for taking ‘illegal feeds’ inside the final 20km. Both riders took bottles of water from speectators at the side of the road. The controversy though was that Frenchman, Romain Bardet, was also seen doing the same at the same moment, but escaped a sanction for reasons unknown.
There is little doubt the race jury at this Tour is having a real shocker, and this only added to it. The jury’s decision was final though, and they wouldn’t be changing it. That was until this morning when I woke up to learn that both penalties to Uran and Bennett had been reversed. It now leaves Uran only 35 seconds behind Fabio Aru on GC. But rather than access Bardet the same penalty and to heck with local outrage, it sounds like it was more convenient, on Bastille Day of all days, to cancel them all.
Froome v Wiggins is now Landa v Froome
Think back five years to the exact same mountain finish as yesterday: Peyragudes. On that day Chris Froome was edging ahead of Bradley Wiggins, his team leader in yellow jersey, desperate to go for the stage win. The team radio lit up and Froome was made to wait for the suffering Wiggins. To tow him up the climb to the finish and ensure he remained in yellow. Froome was 27 years of age that day; Wiggins was 32.
Today, Froome is 32 and his energetic, ambitions team mate, Mikel Landa, is 27. And on the same mountain, it was Landa who was choping at the bit. He looked so comfortable on the run in while Froome was struggling. And on that savage final 300m ramp up to the line, when Froome cracked, Landa went on without him. To be fair their was little Landa could have done at that stage, but it was the optics. What does it do for team moral?
It begged the question: Is Lanada riding for himself, or for Froome? Or is it a bit of both? It’s believed the Spaniard is leaving Sky at the end of the season for Movistar, so what has he got to lose by staking out alone? Unlike his team mates who have ridden on the front before blowing big time, Lanada has maintained and currently sits 7th on GC, 2’55” behind Aru. It might be unfair to say that Lanada is doing his own thing. He didn’t go all in and take the stage after all, but I’m not sure he wants to flog himself for Froome either.
The counter argument is that Sky should have let Lanada go for the stage in that last 500m. By doing so he would have eaten up some of the time bonuses. If Sky are worrying about Landa’s self serving ambitions their solution is simple. Put him further up the line. Stick him on the front a few men early and make him ride before hanging over to another team mate.
I wait with anticipation to see how they play it and to see how Landa rides. Or could it be that we are all reading too much into it?
What to make of Froome’s struggle?
Which leads to another subject we may all be reading a little too much into. What is the condition of Chris Froome? He lost 22 seconds to Bardet yesterday and suffered on that mega steep ramp to the line. Knowing what they know now, would Bardet or Aru have attacked earlier? And if they had would they have taken serious time? It depends on whether Froome was suffering long before the finish or whether it was only the steep ramp that caught him out? I suppose we’ll never know. Today and the days ahead though will tell us whether it was nothing more than a bad day for the Sky man or whether he is a fading force. Is he not at his best form or is age catching up with him? Will he strike back or is this to Froome what ’96 was to Indurain?
There is also the suggestion that Froome’s lack of form and results all season was to allow him to peak later in the Tour. That his best is still to come in the third week. Or indeed that he will peak late to win the Tour and still have something in the take for the Vuelta, unlike in previous years.
Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Froome is past his prime years. He’ll have to pick and chose his moments and rely on his know how to get the job done. It happened to Alberto Contador before him, and in fact, Froome had to win the Tour last year in that way. Could it be a year too far? I am not convinced. It is more that he doesn’t suits those steep ramps at his age anymore. Stage 18 will be far better for him and there is still damage to do.
The Giro men are suffering
I asked the question yesterday whether Nairo Quintana would ever win the Tour? He hasn’t looked good this year and he was a ways short last year too. I wondered had his career peaked earlier than most? That might be unfair. While Quintana lost a Giro in which he arrived fresh, it is also true he had this Tour in the back of his mind. He said he will target only the Tour next year, so we’ll see what he can do.
That said, if Nairo Quintana has done anything in this Tour it end the suggestion that the Giro-Tour double is realistic. The Colombian had hoped to target both races this year but after going hard at the Giro and falling short, he has looked a shadow of himself at this Tour.
But this is a good thing. He might not see it that way, but to me it shows the change in culture in the peloton today compared to ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. It has been 19 years since anyone achieved the Giro-Tour double, and we all know what state the sport was in back in 1998. If anything hints at a better era, it is Quintana’s performance at this Tour.
And not only Quintana. Below are the top riders from the Giro who are competing at this Tour with their current placing in the general classification after 12 stages:
Nairo Quintana – 2nd at the Giro – 8th at the Tour at 4’01”
Thibaut Pinot – 4th at the Giro – 66th at the Tour at 1h15’51”
Bauke Mollema – 7th at the Giro – 35th at the Tour at 11’50”
Mikel Landa – 17th at the Giro – 7th at the Tour at 2’55”
Over to today
Today’s stage should be crazy. 101km long with three category one climbs. Expect the action to come early and often. It’s open to an ambush if someone is willing. And with the jersey now on Aru’s shoulders it will be facinating to see if Astana now ride or whether Sky maintain the status quo. They may wish to set the pace in the knowledge Froome is only 6 seconds back but with a time-trial to come.
This one is a can’t miss.