The stifling heat of yesterday’s trek through the mountains ultimately extinguished the hopes of many fans who had been expecting the top general classification riders to duke it out amongst themselves for stage honours. There is no doubt that the prospect of today’s uphill individual time trial was weighing many ambitions down on Stage 17, riders preferring instead to conserve energy in the hope of putting in a good performance today. Beginning in Sallanches, the route opens with several kilometres of relatively flat terrain, before kicking upwards to 10% as it signals the start of the day’s real challenge; eventually finishing in Megève after 17km of racing later. Fatigue will play a large role in the outcome here, many of those suffering badly yesterday will be anxious of losing yet more time in this race against the clock. This course will allow the pure climbers to gain considerable time on the rest of the peloton, but it is those who can combine this with the required power to dominate a time trial that are most likely to benefit by the finish.
Richie Porte has an encouraging record in these short uphill time trials and will be confident of recording a time likely to challenge many of his rivals. He has appeared incredibly strong as the race approached its final week, looking like the only rider able to match Chris Froome right now, a factor somewhat obscured by his misfortune with punctures and crashes. Porte knows that this is a golden opportunity to climb the general classification, but a stage win here will surely be the greater motivation for 2016’s Tour de France.
Chris Froome will struggle to find many likely to bet against him today, the Sky leader is indomitable these days and has already proven at this year’s tour that few can match him in a time trial. The steepness of this affair will diminish the chances of the thoroughbred time trial riders contesting the win, opening this up for another stage victory for the race’s most dominant rider as it stands. He appears fresher than anyone, even after 17 stages, and many expect Froome to hammer a nail into the coffins of all around him with a potent performance today.
Tom Dumoulin is the most likely rider outside of the general classification battle to challenge for the win here, the Dutchman continually cementing his place as one of the finest time trial riders currently racing. He has demonstrated his climbing prowess already at the race, taking a stage win as a result of it, making it plausible that he shall blend power and climbing ability to great effect on Stage 18 to take the win.
Fabio Aru shall be an outsider worth watching here, the young Italian rider has emerged as one of the stronger competitors in the final week and has previously impressed on mountain time trials despite normally lacking a great ability against the clock. Once he enters onto the steepest sections of today’s stage, Aru will be able to strut his stuff on his favoured gradients, terrain he often uses as a foundation to victory with great success.
Nairo Quintana has fallen far from expectations and now seems to be openly admitting that his form is nowhere near good enough to challenge for the yellow jersey. This uphill time trial would normally see Quintana marked as one of the expected favourites, but his performances at this year’s race up to now show little sign of encouragement to back him here. Natural talent can compensate for a lack of form to a certain degree, though it seems too great a task to make it all up in one attempt and become contender today.
Other riders worth monitoring during today’s time trial are; Ilnur Zakarin, Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, Adam Yates, Rui Costa, Tony Martin and Ion Izagirre.
1st Richie Porte 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Tom Dumoulin