After the Pyrenees the Tour had four gentle but hilly stages in the south of France, as it transitioned towards the Alps for the final and crucial stages of the competition. The four stages had their own challenges, some with hill finishes, but they tended to favour the sprinters. The yellow jersey riders marked time before the Alps, careful not to let time slip against rivals.
On Stage 14, (Rodez-Mende 178.5km) the final hill, was sufficient a challenge, for the Yellow jersey contenders to spar for position; Chris Froome (Team Sky) was able to add valuable seconds to his lead over his nearest rivals, and Nairo Quintana’s (Movistar) moved into second place, ahead of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
For the yellow jersey contest, Chris Froome (Team Sky) along with his able lieutenants, Geraint Thomas and Riche Porte, looked after the ‘maillot juane’. He lost no time against his nearest rivals. Only Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) lost then gained seconds, and moving back into the Top ten, with a strong ride on Stage 16 (Bourg-de-Peage – Gap 201km) making up for weaker one on Stage 14 (Rodez-Mende 178.5km). Currently, the top five riders are Froome, Quintana (Movistar), van Garderen (BMC Racing), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), with Geraint Evans (Team Sky) in 6th. All are primed for the Alps.
The Green jersey for overall points was close call after the Pyrenees between Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Saxo). By the end of Stage 16 in Gap, Peter Sagan had established a stranglehold on the jersey. He is yet to win a tour stage, but has managed sixteen second places in his Tour career, including Stages 13 (Muret-Rodez 198.5km) and 16 (Bourg-de-Peage – Gap 201km) on this Tour. His consistency as a rider in delivering sprints and intermediate placement, plus his incredible skill downhill, make him such a complete and admired rider. His descent of the tricky and dangerous Col de Manse into Gap at the end of Stage 16, was a masterclass in downhill riding, demonstrating incredibly nerve, skill and aerodynamic positioning. His dominant riding has been recognized with the combativity jersey on two occasions. Only Sagan and Michael Kwiatkowski (Etixx QuickStep) have so far worn the red numbers twice in this Tour. For all the Green jerseys and red numbers, Peter Sagan is deserving a stage win at some point.
Andre Greipel, though, has established himself as the fastest finisher on the Tour. He won Stage 15 (Mende-Valence 183km), his third of the Tour. He’ll most likely conserve energy in the Alps to challenge for victory in Paris and aim for his 4th stage win of this Tour. He is currently the man to beat on the sprints.
Nairo Quintana, still wears the white jersey, and if he doesn’t usurp Froome in the Alps will retain that in Paris.
The Polka Dot jersey, for King of the Mountains, is still worn by Joaquim Rodriguez (although Chris Froome leads), but this may change in Alps.
The winner of Stage 13 (Muret-Rodez) was Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing), claiming his first ever stage win on the Tour; Stage 14 (Rodez –Mende) was won by Steve Cummings (MTN Qhubeka). This was Mandela Day; how better to celebrate than MTN Qhubeka, the first African team on their first Tour recording their first win. Cummings (and it was his first Tour stage win aswell) outfoxed the French pair of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who were too busy watching themselves to take note of Cummings powering past them to the line. Stage 15 (Mende-Valance) was won by Andre Greipel, and Stage 16 Bourg-de-Peage – Gap), by Ruben Plaza Molina (Lampre Merida), recording his first Tour stage victory, who rode bravely to lead from 15km out.
The Tour has provided excellent racing but has been marred by innuendo and insinuation, which has incited crowd and media behavior to be less than charitable towards these athletes, with Froome and Team Sky being targetted. Let’s hope there is no repeat, and cycling takes centre stage in the Alps. It will be a battle royale. Chess on wheels, as Froome and Team Sky, defend their lead, and maybe get Geraint Thomas on the podium. The other contenders must either work together, despite being on different teams, or go it alone, for the glory of wearing the most coveted jersey in sport, along the Champs Elysee in Paris next weekend.
Here come the Alps, each of the next four stages are critical, with the Alpe du Huez providing the final setting for the most spectacular finish on Stage 19, before the Stage 20, the procession through Paris.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast and former player from representative Schoolboy level, through University and most corners where he’s lived. Currently works as Consultant on Strategy and Marketing.