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Saint-Lary-Soulan - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Nairo Alexander QUINTANA ROJAS (Columbia / Team Movistar) pictured during the 105th Tour de France - stage - 17 from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan - 65KM - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

TOUR’18 Stage 17: Quintana Dancing On The Tour Ceiling!

Stage Report: Nairo Quintana (Movistar) took a wonderful victory on the short and punchy stage 17 of the Tour de France as he distanced everyone to take the first every victory at the Col du Portet. Chris Froome was distanced as Sky had the decision of who is their team leader taken out of their hands as Geraint Thomas took time from everyone… Except Nairo Quintana.

The grid start didn’t work as everyone simply settled into traditional order and for two climbs it looked like this was going to be a bit of a dud but it all happened on the final climb to the highest point on this Tour. Nairo Quintana and Dan Martin attacked and although Martin went into the red and lost contact with the Colombian he was chasing all climb and came home 28 seconds down. He moves himself into the top five but the big GC drama happened behind as continued attacks by the LottoNL-Jumbo team distanced Froome who fell out of contention for the yellow jersey. Geraint Thomas gained time on his closest rivals at the finish but he has now lost the foil of having Froome second on GC, he is looking by far the best rider in the race though. What a day for Roglic though, he has jumped up from tenth place on GC, when the race first went into the mountains in the Alps, to within spitting distance of a podium place now. Exciting racing sometimes is the way.

What a day! Take a quick look at the profile and you might think we’re in for three shallow climbs across a normal Tour de France stage. Look closer and we gave three steep climbs in just 65km. The Tour has been going this way after stages just over or under the 100km mark recently but this is extreme.

First up, there’s no neutralized section so the start will be like a cross or MTB race. Secondly, because there’s no neutralized section, the organizers are starting the racers in a grid formation like in a formula one race, yellow jersey at the front all the way back to the battling Lawson Craddock who will start at the back. They then face the Montee de Peyragudes (14.9km @ 6.7%) followed by a descent and flat section and then the Col de Val Louren-Azet (7.4km @ 8.3%), another descent before the brutal and twisting HC ascent to the summit of the Col du Portet (16km @ 8.7%) which is also the high point of this Tour de France. It’s basically two hard climbs before a final ascent which is a Pyrenean version of Alpe d’Huez. Why aren’t all stages like this?

The Lights Go Out
This was meant to be a different start but it wasn’t really. Within minutes the Sky train had formed and Luke Rowe, starting virtually at the back of the pack had gone flat out and was now in the middle of the action and leading the race. We also had the typical early break forming as the sprinters fell out the back. It was clear that there weren’t many riders who weren’t in the red at this point and this wasn’t the hard bit of the stage.

Tanel Kangert (Astana) was away by himself but he was chased by the ever present Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) who was joined by Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) and Kristiajn Durasek (UAE Team Emirates). Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was also on the attack in a third group ahead of the Sky led peloton. The first climb was the easiest of the day but it was a stressful one for Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who punctured twice and crested the top just off the back of the peloton. We had been promised fireworks but so far same old, Sky were on the front and everyone else was watching and happy to keep their mediocre positions in the top ten.

On the flat section in-between the first and second climb the junction was made at the front and Kangert was joined by Durasek and Alaphilippe but Herrada was nowhere to be seen, he’d gone AWOL on the descent. Almost as it started the flat was over and they were heading back uphill for the shorter but steeper ascent of the Col de Val Louron-Azet. The trio hit the front with a 3.35 lead over the Geraint Thomas (Sky) group and just over a minute to the Valverde group.

Sky had controlled the race thus far but AG2R-La Mondiale wanted to put their own mark on it and Pierre Roger Latour was sent to the front. His pace was brutal but he wasn’t making much of an impact on the Sky riders, they were still easily the team with most riders in the GC group which was now whittled down to around 20 riders. Latour was also riding further into the white jersey as Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Goubert) had been dropped further down the climb and was falling back. Marc Soler (Movistar) had been sent back from the Valverde group and was now putting his shoulder to the stone to help the AG2R effort. Soler was driving it and the gap was now falling towards 2.30 as the weather began to close in.

Soler’s efforts had the effect of reducing Romain Bardet’s (AG2R-La Mondiale) support and Latour was now dropping back. He had looked on the limit for a few minutes but he was now dangling off the back. Simon Geschke (Sunweb) had been strategically placed up the road and his group was now caught by the Soler led group of favorites and the German could now slip in to support Dumoulin. In the lead group, Durasek was starting to be distanced as they crested the second climb of the day but he was within view of the two leaders. The Valverde group were next over but their lead was barely a minute over the GC contenders.

What goes down must come up
There wasn’t a feed zone on this stage but musettes had been handed out on the roadside, the pace was so hot though that none of the GC riders looked to have taken one. This might come back to bite them as they hit the final climb. The descent was a very technical one with narrow roads and tight corners past brick walls and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was an unlikely crash victim near the top of the descent. The Slovakian had to really just get through this stage to basically be assured of slipping into the Green jersey in Paris.

Kangert and Alaphilippe had made it to the bottom of the final climb together, Durasek hadn’t been able to get back on the descent. The pair would start with a gap of around 2:30, Soler had closed the gap substantially on the climb but he had taken the descent very easy and handed back most of the time gap they’d closed on the ascent. The Movistar plan was also playing into the hands of Sky though, behind Soler sat every single Sky rider left in the race, bar Luke Rowe. Neither the AG2R or Movistar efforts had actually caused any hurt for Sky.

As the final climb began Kangert hit out and Alaphilippe had no answer, he’d done his job and virtually secured the polka dot jersey and he was now drifting back to the GC group. The Estonian was obviously focussed on the stage win but he was also gaining time in the GC race and was elevating himself at least into the top 20.

Soler’s tactics had been confusing but it was now clear, Nairo Quintana attacked with Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates). The Irishman followed for a short period but he was distanced as Quintana grew wings. His gap grew to almost 30 seconds as Sky were content for him to go clear.

There was more drama behind as Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) pushed clear and was followed by Chris Froome (Sky). Geraint Thomas either couldn’t or wasn’t allowed to follow and Roglic was looking good. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) was forced to the front in pursuit of Roglic and Froome as Geraint Thomas began to see his yellow jersey fall away. The Sky workers were fading fast with Dumoulin’s efforts and it was now just Egan Bernal left in the GC group. Dumoulin had brought Froome and Roglic back, but the frustration for the race was that the Dutchman was really doing the work for Sky. The GC group was now just; Bardet, Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk, Mikel Landa, Dumoulin, Froome, Thomas, Bernal and Wout Poels (Sky) who, like Lazarus, emerged back to the front after being dropped when Roglic went.

Further up the climb, Quintana had linked up with Valverde and was still flying up the mountain. He was a long way down overall but he was doing a fantastic job as he rolled off the front of the Valverde group taking just Rafa Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) with him, Valverde was cooked. His gap back to the Thomas group was around 40 seconds, that should continue growing though as Poels’ pace on the front of the group was easier than it could have been.

Dan Martin was still out in front of the GC group and he was beginning to catch Quintana and Majka, they were around 20 seconds ahead of him. Kangert was also the leader of the race but his gap was just 1.22 to the GC group and so around 40 seconds to the marauding Quintana.

Kangert had been brave but he was done and Quintana was now leading the race with a 1.04 advantage as Dan Martin continued and he too passed Kangert. Martin’s face was a mask of pain but what a ride, he went too deep when he attacked with Quintana but he had found his level and was now just 18 seconds down. Then bang, Quintana went again leaving Majka in his dust. The Colombian can be virtually guaranteed to produce one devastating effort in the mountains and this seemed to be his day. Amazingly though, Poels was still doing the pace making and he was keeping Quintana in check, albeit with a gap beyond one minute. The Belgian had gone pop earlier but his pack making now seemed to be putting both Froome and Bardet in difficulty. The Frenchman had been lingering at the back but now he was detached. Froome was right at the back of the group and looked like he’d be the next man to go, but now he put in an acceleration and moved up the wheels.

Kruijswijk was the next one to go on the attack and that was enough to distance Poels out the back. Bardet was 30 seconds down but still had some of the hardest parts of the climb left to go. Kruijswijk came back into the fold and Bernal was now on the front and the gap to Quintana was 1.08, the Movistar rider was leading Martin by 26 seconds as we entered the final 4km.

Roglic was looking like the real deal and he had grown into this Tour. He was the next to go to the front and his attack put Froome and Landa in difficulty. Bernal came to the front and settled everything down to allow both Froome and Landa to get back on. Froome was struggling though, they needed to dislodge him if we were going to have a proper race. Dumoulin went to the front and he was followed by Thomas and the two LottoNL-Jumbo guys. Bernal was left behind to help with pacing Froome up the climb but the defending champion looked like a harpooned whale now. Kruijswijk had some difficulty but he was back in with the remaining four GC contenders. Roglic hit the front and now him and Dumoulin were setting the pace to try and kill off the Froome challenge.

Roglic was by himself though! Dumoulin couldn’t follow and it was only Geraint Thomas who could go with him. Kruijswijk was losing ground and Dumoulin was a few bike lengths back as it eased off into the final kilometer. This was the hardest section though, Quintana was going to win and Dan Martin was going to come home in second place.

Dumoulin was dangling off the back of the Roglic and Thomas pairing but he was there. Kruijswijk also wasn’t dead and buried and he was within 20 seconds of his team mate.

Quintana crossed the line in first place and Dan Martin crossed just under 30 seconds down but then we cut back to see Geraint Thomas take flight and finish less than a minute down with Roglic and Dumoulin coming home 52 seconds down. Kruijswijk was the next to the line less than 15 seconds down and Froome came home 1.33 down on Quintana and almost one minute down on Geraint Thomas – the King is dead long live the King.

Bardet came home more than 2.30 down on Quintana and his chances of a podium look to have finally been ended terminally.

After a fairly pedestrian couple of weeks we finally had some racing, ignited by Quintana and Dan Martin with Primoz Roglic climbing out of his skin to distance Chris Froome.

Tour de France Stage 17 Result:
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar in 2:21:27
2. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates at 0:28
3. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky at 0:47
4. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo at 0:52
5. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 0:52
6. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 1:05
7. Egan Bernal (Col) Sky at 1:33
8. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 1:35
9. Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar at 1:35
10. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 2:01
11. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe at 2:20
12. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 2:32
13. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 2:35
14. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 3:23
15. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 4:00
16. Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic at 4:15
17. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors at 5:10
18. Jesper Hansen (Den) Astana
19. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 5:12
20. Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana at 5:38
21. Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 6:00
22. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 6:11
23. Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 6:52
24. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis at 8:12
25. Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 9:08.

Tour de France Overall After Stage 17:
1. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky in 70:34:11
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 1:59
3. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 2:31
4. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo at 2:47
5. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 3:30
6. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 4:19
7. Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar at 4:34
8. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 5:13
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates at 6:33
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 9:31
11. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 11:25
12. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 11:31
13. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors 0:14:20
14. Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 16:03
15. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert at 22:30
16. Egan Bernal (Col) Sky at 24:34
17. Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic at 26:54
18. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 27:22
19. Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana at 27:35
20. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC at 32:56
21. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 33:11
22. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC at 33:47
23. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe at 35:08
24. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott at 36:13
25. Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida at 37:24.

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