It was billed as the biggest test of this Tour de France. A day to satisfy even the most sadistic of cycling fans; with the fearsome Col de la Madeleine merely an hors-d’oeuvre for what was to come. The much-hyped Col de la Loze. The newest paved climb in the Alps. With pitches of over 20 per cent near the summit, where the air is thinnest, there would be no hiding place up here. No faking it.
If Wednesday was any guide, we can anoint Primoz Roglic Slovenia’s first Tour de France champion now. The former ski jumper is flying towards the finish in Paris on Sunday.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Roglic tightened his grip on the maillot jaune on stage 17. Beginning the day 40 seconds ahead of compatriot Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates], the Jumbo-Visma rider ended the stage in second place, 15 seconds behind winner Miguel Angel Lopez [Astana], but crucially 15 seconds ahead of Pogacar who faded towards the top. Combined with the six bonus seconds he took on the line to Pogacar’s four, it meant Roglic extended his lead in the general classification to 57 seconds with three stages of the race remaining.” data-reactid=”21″>Roglic tightened his grip on the maillot jaune on stage 17. Beginning the day 40 seconds ahead of compatriot Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates], the Jumbo-Visma rider ended the stage in second place, 15 seconds behind winner Miguel Angel Lopez [Astana], but crucially 15 seconds ahead of Pogacar who faded towards the top. Combined with the six bonus seconds he took on the line to Pogacar’s four, it meant Roglic extended his lead in the general classification to 57 seconds with three stages of the race remaining.
All three of those stages pose dangers. Thursday’s from Meribel to La Roche-sur-Forron actually features even more metres of vertical gain than Wednesday. The most of the entire race at 4500m. Anyone failing to back up Wednesday’s effort is going to be in trouble. Thursday’s stage looks to be a straightforward one on paper but with the battle for the green jersey still raging it could be a stressful one, raced from kilometre zero. Then Saturday’s time trial in La Planche des Belles Filles. Roglic is an excellent time triallist but so is Pogacar. One mistake and it could all be over.
Roglic is the overwhelming favourite now, though. More than the seconds he gained on Wednesday, it was the manner in which he gained them. He eased away from Pogacar in the final two kilometres.
It was a brilliant, slow-burner of a stage. It took a while for the break to form, but when it did it was a good one consisting of five riders: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Richard Carapaz (Ineos), Gorka Izagirre (Astana), Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation).
Behind them, intriguingly, it was Bahrain-McLaren rather than Jumbo-Visma controlling the pace of the bunch. The British squad, who are led by Rod Ellingworth, continued to do so all the way up the Col de la Madeleine and for most of the way up the Col de la Loze, bringing the break back and trying to set Mikel Landa up for a win which could have propelled him into a podium spot. That he did not manage it in the end – Landa finished seventh at 1min20sec – should not diminish their efforts. How often are teams criticised for sitting back and allowing Ineos or Jumbo-Visma to dictate? Bahrain-McLaren, with Wout Poels, Matej Mohoric and Damiano Caruso all prominent, made the race.
It was a grandstand finish. With the clouds gathering ominously overhead, and the steepest sections of the climb to come, Pogacar was the first to show his hand. It was the 21-year-old’s acceleration with 4km to go which saw off Landa.
Adam Yates [Mitchelton-Scott] was the next to go pop at 3.6km. The Briton did well to compose himself and ride in with Landa, 1min20 down, staying fifth on GC, albeit now over 3mins behind Roglic.
Now we were down to five, with Sepp Kuss of Jumbo-Visma still pulling for Roglic, followed by Pogacar, Lopez and Richie Porte [Trek-Segafredo]. Lopez decided to take matters into his own hands, blowing the group to bits with 3.5km remaining and soloing to the finish for his first Tour stage win, overhauling the last man from the break – Carapaz, who produced a magnificent ride as Ineos look to save face at this race – in the process. Lopez rises to third on GC as a result.
Roglic was the day’s big winner, though, allowing Kuss to attack near the top so he could check out his rivals, then going himself. “I don’t think the job is done,” he insisted. “There are still some hard stages to come and Tadej Pogačar is a great climber. [But] I’m glad this stage is behind us. I was happy with the position I was in before the stage, and now I’m even happier.”