Stage 15 Recap - Another day and another race of two halves except the breakaway was much more exciting, with a big group once again going but taking over 30 kilometres to form. When we did get a group going clear, it was essentially another peloton once again but on the slopes of the Pic de Nore, which peaked 41.5km from the line but was 12.3km long and averaging 6.3%. Rafal Majka went after a lot of groundwork from Peter Sagan and pulled out a big advantage on the climb but he was being chased by plenty of team alliances that included Magnus Cort Nielsen and Michael Valgren (both Astana); Domenico Pozzovivo, Ion Izagirre (both Bahrain-Merida), Bauke Mollema and Toms Skujiņš (both Trek-Segafredo), and Lillian Calmejane of Direct-Energie.
They came together as one on the descent and from then on a tactical game ensued that was always favouring Astana, who had the two strongest sprinters in the shape of Cort Nielsen and Valgren. Pozzovivo started the attacking, but the diminutive Italian was spent after a hard day and he set up Ion Izagirre to make a powerful move. Majka’s race was run too, and with Valgren sitting on the wheel of Calmejane, Mollema joined Cort-Nielsen to make a group of three. With reserves on empty at the end of the day, neither could drop the Danish sprinter and Astana now have a highly successful tour after two wins over the weekend.
Behind Dan Martin attacked on the slopes of the Nore and quickly built a decent advantage although a rather full set of yellow jersey contending teams were calm and despite a gap of 1:15, the Irishman – who at least was less ‘bored’ than he was at the start of the climb – was brought back.
The Peleton rolled across as one.
There are six stages left and four to do something in, all of potentially huge consequence. Tuesday’s stage will be a dicey last 50 kilometres with poor weather predicted for the sharp Col de Menté and Col du Portillon (both Category 1) and then we have just 65 kilometres for the 17th stage which could be anything – there are 3,200 meters of climbing in that time and if La Rosiere was something then this will just be harder.
There’s the Col d'Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet, and the Col d'Aubisque for the last road stage and then a time trial that is incredibly tough on pure Basque roads for 20 stages.
Tuesday’s Stage - Stage 16: Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 218km
We’re into the decisive week and we’ve got a potential springboard for action. There’s 130 kilometres of flat action before four climbs in just over 70 kilometres that include a pass into Spain as well.
Things really start with the Category 2 Col de Portet-d'Aspet (5.4km at 7.1%) and then the Category 1 Col de Menté (6.9k at 8.1%) before a technical descent and then some valley roads before the final of the Col du Portillon (8.3km at 7.1%). The descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon was set to be difficult even in the dry but it’s a treacherous danger point in what will likely be wet conditions.
All the familiar names are likely to try for a breakaway attempt and Team Sky are happy to let the efforts go with their strong position so far.
The rest day will be crucial in allowing riders some respite so assume all riders are going for it and start with the team classification. Bahrain-Merida closed the gap on Movistar’s lead in the team classification to 7:10 and a stage win would make their tour. Domenico Pozzovivo and Ion Izagirre were active on Sunday whilst Gorka remains a big presence too. All three can descend and there shouldn’t be any sprinters left over the latter climbs.
Movistar will respond in kind with Marc Soler being sent up the road and perhaps Andrey Amador as well to limit losses against the clock. Both have been active but neither have had the legs so far and both could be tactical pawns.
Direct Energie have the intent but not the legs just yet, although Lillian Calmejane looked strong before tactics came into play – can he moderate his effort?
Warren Barguil hasn’t had the same legs as last year but his team is on strong form and there will be a roleur or two to get him through the opening plains or keep a break on the day close. Can he distance Alaphlippe?
Quick-Step’s efforts are all about Julian Alaphlippe, who still has the polka dots although he faces a strong challenge from Barguil. Alaphilippe has better legs than his countryman and rival – he’s got a stage win to prove it – and the descents or valley roads hold no fear, more scheming breakaway riders who won’t pull in the valleys.
Bauke Mollema is riding strongly now out of the GC and wasn’t suited by the parcours on Sunday but Trek can help him escape and he’ll be amongst the strongest climber – same goes for Rafal Majka and Bora too.
Cofidis have Daniel Navarro for the Pyrenees along with Nicolas Edet and BMC have Damiano Caruso, riding more strongly than Tejay Van Garderen?
Adam Yates was very enthusiastic at the start of Sunday’s stage whilst Mikel Nieve so nearly won on the slopes of La Rosiere – Mitchelton have the strength to get them into the break but does Yates have the legs?
Of the favourites? Romain Bardet loves these conditions but who can break the Sky train? Tom Dumoulin is riding powerfully and can descend like the wind but the Alps suited him better than the Pyrenees likely will and how long can his legs last – although can’t the same be said of all the contenders, including Thomas and Froome?
A quieter day after the action on the Croix Neuve yesterday although it is crunch time now – He’s got 1:39 to make up on for Thomas with one less man on the team with Gianni Moscon having been eliminated thanks to an altercation with Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo Samsic.
There’s no excuses and it’s not like this is the first time he’s behaved unacceptably on the bike - Moscon was reported to have used racial slurs against the black French rider Kévin Reza and afterwards Sky sidelined Moscon for six weeks and sent him on a diversity awareness course in which they said his contract was at risk if something like this happened again and low and behold, here we are.