22/07 - Stage 17 - Digne-Les-Bains to Pra Loup - 161 km

The route
If you think this stage looks familiar, you’re quite right. This is the exact same route the organizers used for stage 5 of this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné. The day starts out in Digne-Les-Bains with a short and un-categorized climb. The breakaways have been very successful recently and today is another good stage for a break to make it all the way. Despite a light headwind, we can expect a very fast start with numerous attacks. It won’t be a surprise if the final break doesn’t get clear until the riders reach the top of Col des Lèques after 40 km on the bike. From here, it’s constantly up and down for the remaining part of the stage.

After covering Col de Toutes Aures (6.1 km / 3.1 %) and Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel (11 km / 5.2 %), the peloton reaches the intermediate sprint in Beauvezer. After his recent performances, something drastic will have to happen for Peter Sagan not to wear the green jersey in Paris. Andre Greipel is 89 points behind the Slovakian. Even if he’s still in the peloton at this point, I’m not sure he will sprint for the last few points.

With 36 km left to go, the riders start on Col d'Allos. The 14 km towards the top of this category 1 climb have an average gradient of 5.5 %. The first 9 km are not very steep with gradients of 4-5 %. The last 6 km, however, kick up with 7 %. The most difficult part of Col d'Allos is the long and technical descent. In Dauphiné, Romain Bardet attacked over the top of the climb and opened up a gap of nearly one and a half minutes on the descent. The weather forecast shows it might rain. On wet roads, this descent will be very dangerous. Some riders may lose more time downhill than uphill today.

There is no flat part between the descent from Col d’Allos and the beginning of the final climb. The riders start on the ascent towards Pra-Loup with 6.2 km to go at high speed. The climb itself is not very difficult with steady gradients of 6.5 % for the first 5 km. Only the last kilometer kicks up with 8 %. This is a not a climb well suited for pure climbers who like steep gradients and constant changes of rhythm. Instead, it favors those who are good at keeping a steady pace at all time. In Dauphiné, Chris Froome attacked with 2 km to go. However, Tejay van Garderen kept his own pace and managed to get back to Froome and overtake him on the final 150 meters. You can re-watch the final of the stage with Bardet’s attack and daredevil descent by clicking here.

The favorites
Since the climbs on this stage are not very steep, we may not see much damage done in the general classification. Unless something happens on the last descent, I doubt the time differences will be big. Most likely, the GC riders will wait for the following days to make their moves. Therefore, this is a good day for a break to make it all the way.

Romain Bardet is the obvious pick. He won this stage in Dauphiné and he knows exactly how to tackle the technical descent and the final climb. He’s 13 minutes behind Froome in the GC, so he should be allowed to join an early breakaway. After a bad start to the Tour, Bardet seems to be getting stronger and stronger.  He’s not afraid of attacking and I’m sure he has this stage marked in the road book. Of the remaining stages in the race, this is probably Bardet’s best chance of winning. After already finishing third twice, he must be very eager to finally get it right.

Another French climber who’s out of the GC and eager to take revenge is Thibaut Pinot. He’s more than half an hour behind Froome. FDJ hasn’t had anything to cheer for in this Tour. Their only chance of success is if Pinot regains strength and pulls off a big performance in the Alps. Like Bardet, Pinot too had a very difficult start to the race, suffering in the extreme heat. However, he seems to be better now and without being a threat to the yellow jersey, the peloton won’t chase him down if he joins the breakaway. In the past, Pinot had a problem with speed, which caused him to be extra cautious on the downhill sections. It’s not that he was a bad descender, he just didn’t feel comfortable at high speed. He has worked a lot on this and now, it doesn’t seem to bother him that much. Pinot won the queen stage of Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse this year. He knows he’s capable of big things on his best days. Today might be one of them.

In case the GC riders end up fighting for the stage win, look out for Vincenzo Nibali. He’s not an imminent threat to Froome so I doubt they will chase him down right away if he tries a ‘Bardet-attack’ over the top of the penultimate climb. Nibali is fearless on the descents. After taking part in Dauphiné, he knows what to expect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sail way on the long descent like Bardet did last month. Back then, Bardet started on Pra-Loup with a gap of 1:26 minutes. At the finishing line he won by 36 seconds. If Nibali manages to open up a gap of around a minute before starting on the final ascent, he should be able to hang on and win the stage.

Alejandro Valverde will probably try an attack on the descent as well. Like Nibali, he’s an excellent descender. On the rest day, Nairo Quintana said the plan - to put his rivals under pressure - is to attack multiple times with Valverde. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Valvede and Nibali join forces an try to get away on the descent. However, Chris Froome was very attentive on the difficult descent from Col de Manse on stage 16. He made a smart choice to stick with Valverde and not letting go of his wheel. If he can do the same thing today, he should be able to start on the final climb in the same group as his main rivals. If so, I doubt they will be able to gain any time on him. He might even try another attack like in Dauphiné and go for the stage win.

The outsiders
Personally, I have high hopes for Louis Meintjes today. This stage suits the young South African perfectly. If he makes it into the right breakaway, he will be very tough to drop on these kinds of climbs. Meintjes has proven his huge talent numerous times within the last couple of years. It’s no wonder many of the big World Tour teams have been trying to sign him. He’s a very gifted climber and he’s not afraid of attacking. Despite crashing hard on the final descent of stage 15, Meintjes still managed to finish 5th on Plateau de Beille. He feels he has recovered from the crash and now, he hopes to shine in the Alps. In Dauphiné, he finished 6th on this stage, which he had already done reconnaissance of before that. He knows exactly how to tackle the climbs and tricky descents. MTN-Qhubeka has already had a fantastic debut Tour de France. Today, it may get even better.

For other strong outsiders who can do very well from an early breakaway, look to Pierre Rolland, Andrew Talansky, Steven Kruijswijk, Romain Sicard, Rigoberto Uran, Tony Gallopin and of course the riders targeting the polka dot jersey like Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and Jakob Fuglsang. However, there are only 29 KOM points up for grabs today. It would make sense for Purito and Fuglsang to wait a bit as there are more points to fight for on each of the next three stages.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

Accept Cookies?
Provided by OpenGlobal E-commerce