Chris Froome proceeded to tighten his chokehold upon this year’s Tour de France with yesterday’s blistering time trial, putting enough time into his remaining rivals to suggest the yellow jersey will stay upon his shoulders into Paris. Despite the race for the maillot jaune appearing dead, the battle for the podium is well and truly lit now, with less than two minutes currently separating 2nd to 6th on the general classification. These final mountainous days are are likely to prove hectic, as with shorter distances and a chance of being on the podium of Paris still possible for many, it is likely the stages will be ridden intensely. Today is a relatively brief 146km trip from the immediate climb out of Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, taking in a total of four categorised ascents which include the HC Montée de Bisanne and the final Category 1 summit finish.
Chris Froome has sunk everyone’s ambitions of winning the yellow jersey at 2016’s Tour de France, seemingly putting the final nail in place with yesterday’s astonishingly potent time trial. Right now it looks like he is a level beyond the rest and it is easy to see him taking the stage today if the general classification names sweep up the day’s breakaway late on. The final ascent offers the steep gradients which have often seen Froome distance his rivals with great success, and with this being the final summit finish of 2016’s Tour de France, he will be motivated to add a stage victory here to the set.
Richie Porte continues to impress and would have been even closer to Froome’s winning time in yesterday’s time trial had he paced it more effectively. Most tellingly of all perhaps, Porte left Stage 18 believing he had failed to give it everything on the course and is clearly enjoying great form at the tail-end of this race. Froome has not dropped his former teammate thus far, though the impetus to do so has not really been required at this year’s race, meaning there is the potential of Porte being gifted a small gap in the final moments of Stage 19.
Romain Bardet is all too aware of how close he is to securing a podium place this year and could be tempted into attacking on the final ascent in order to gain time. Such a move would cause chaos in the lead group, as nobody in the top ten is truly assured of their place beyond Chris Froome, so a frantic battle to follow wheels would immediately break out. The Frenchman could wait until the penultimate stage to try and steal a podium spot, as the stage concludes with a downhill section, but given that he has appeared to be one of the stronger climbers in these final days there is no reason to avoid attacking if he senses rivals in trouble on Stage 19.
Rafal Majka seems to have been wearing the polka dot jersey since we first rolled out of Northern France given his dominant performance. Despite leading the competition with ease, the Polish rider is still lacking a stage victory and knows that this is his last chance of solving the problem.
Ilnur Zakarin has certainly shown a return to form after his horrendous crash earlier this year in the Giro d’Italia and will be motivated enough by his win on Stage 17 to try his luck once again. The uphill start will play into the hands of a strong breakaway of climbers forming and he will be wide eyed in anticipation of joining the right move.
Serge Pauwels enjoys these tough days in the saddle and was unfortunate to not be rewarded better for his performance on Stage 17. He should certainly be eager to join the breakaway once again and is likely to have learned from his earlier mistakes which cost him a better placing a few days ago.
Fabio Aru rode a fantastic time trial as predicted by Spokenforks yesterday and shall now be on the lookout for an opportunity to ride his way onto the podium too. The Italian loves steep terrain and shall be a man to watch on the final ascent as the battle for top ten placings is expected to boil over.
Thomas De Gendt will be eager to apply pressure in the race for the polka dot jersey and has freshness on his side in comparison to his rivals, who have spent more time in the breakaways recently. If he performs well today, De Gendt could well end up snatching the jersey in the final couple of days before reaching Paris.
1st Romain Bardet 2nd Fabio Aru 3rd Chris Froome