Following a turbulent opening week and a well-earned rest day, the Tour entered the mountains for its second act, with two riders from Team Sky in Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome poised to move into the race lead, and a diminishing cast of adversaries waiting in the wings to unseat them. Here’s how a thrilling and brutal week went down.
The first stage in the Alps featured five categorised climbs over 158.5km, and featured a large breakaway group on the move whilst the rest of the peloton played a waiting game. Julian Alaphilippe (Quickstep Floors) hoovered up KOM points on his way to an impressive stage win and the polka dot jersey, while Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) was courageous in his defence of the yellow jersey.
If stage 10 failed to produce fireworks in the battle for the general classification, stage 11 more than made up for it. On an unusually short stage of just 108km – but with over 4,000m of climbing – a breakaway escaped again, but the mountains would ultimately take their toll. Team Movistar made a gallant but futile attempt to break Sky’s stranglehold on the stage by sending Alejandro Valverde up the road on the attack. He was joined by Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) to form a dangerous threat for Froome and Thomas, but Team Sky were able to bring them back. Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott), the last hold-out from the breakaway, was swept up by Geraint Thomas in the last 400m, who took the stage victory and moved into the yellow jersey.
There are few climbs as iconic as Alpe d’Huez, and the Tour’s arrival on its slopes delivered all the expected drama and more. Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto NL-Jumbo), a survivor from the day’s break, hit the climactic final climb with a handy advantage, but a fierce pace from Team Sky ate into his lead. The huge number of spectators on the climb added to the atmosphere but also the danger for the riders: Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) got tangled in a spectator’s camera strap and crashed, breaking a vertebrae, whilst Sky were on the receiving end of aggression and booing. At the stage’s finish, Geraint Thomas made it two from two by gapping Dumoulin and Froome in the run in to the line.
A merciful reprieve after the efforts of the Alps, the Tour’s 13th stage was one for the sprinters – or what was left of them. The mountains forced a number of the fastest men in this year’s Tour out of the race – Mark Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria, Dylan Groenewegen amongst them – which left Peter Sagan with a clear shot at a third stage win for this Tour… so far.
The race headed into the lumpy Massif Central for stages 14 and 15 as it tracked across France’s south towards the Pyrenees. A large, well-constituted breakaway group slipped away early, building a massive lead of almost 30 minutes by stage’s end, and ensuring that there would effectively be two races on the road – for the stage win, and for time gaps between the GC contenders in the peloton behind. On a steep finishing climb in Mende, Omar Fraile (Astana) would prove the strongest, attacking and catching Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and holding off a late move from Julian Alaphilippe (Quickstep Floors). Back in the peloton, it was again Dumoulin, Thomas and Froome arriving together, with Primoz Roglic (Lotto NL-Jumbo) snatching a few seconds from them.
Another day for the breakaway, the 15th stage brought the race to Carcassonne for the second rest day. It was an aggressive day’s racing, with a large breakaway group finally getting away. From that group, Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe) made a valiant but fruitless move in the last hour of racing, but was brought back by a group of seven chasers. Of this group, three riders would go on to decide the stage winner. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) would emerge victorious, ahead of Ion Izagirre and Bauke Mollema.
The final countdown...
The Tour now enters its pivotal final week with Thomas leading his Team Sky teammate (and defending champion) Chris Froome by 1.39, with Tom Dumoulin lying a further 11 seconds behind in third place. Three tough stages in the Pyrenees await, along with a time trial, to determine the finishing order and the winner of the most prestigious prize in cycling.
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