Five talking points from stage 15 of the Tour de France
Froome survives in yellow; Ag2r's mass attack; Landa's loyalty; and more talking points from stage 15 of the 2017 Tour de France
Chris Froome survives a huge scare
Having suffered a mechanical and subsequently fallen adrift from a group that contained all the other GC favourites, it was pivotal that Froome regain contact before the summit of the climb. If he were to fail to, the strength in numbers enjoyed by a sizable group of favourites – not to mention the multiple Ag2r domestiques – all with a mutual interest of putting time into Froome would have been enough to blow the isolated Sky leader away in the rolling 30km to the finish. The time loss could have been huge – his title defence could have been over.
But thanks to an excellent effort, both collectively and individually, Froome’s Tour was saved. He relied on typically brilliant and loyal support from his teammates – the invaluably selfless Michal Kwiatkowski offered his back wheel, Mikel Nieve and Sergio Henao furiously paced him up the early part of the climb, and finally Mikel Landa dropped back to pace him the rest of the way. And when necessary, Froome put his nose to the wind and paced himself up the road.
The catch was made about halfway up the climb, and may be remembered as the moment Froome won the Tour.
Ag2r put Froome on the ropes, but fail to land the killer blow
Not for the first time at this Tour, Ag2r-La Mondiale demonstrated a stunning display of strength to put everyone else under pressure.
It was their work at the front at the foot of the Peyra Taillade that first put Froome under pressure, exacerbated by the mechanical suffered by the yellow jersey. At one point on the climb Ag2r riders made up nearly half of the peloton, and they looked in a prime position to put Froome’s GC ambitions to the sword.
But the team failed to land the killer blow. Their leader Romain Bardet stuck to the plan of having his domestiques set the pace on the climb, perhaps expecting that Froome would fail to bridge the gap, and thinking that the more teammates they retained, the more time they could put into him during the run-in to the finish.
But Froome did manage to claw his way back, and Bardet managed ultimately take no time out of him. His hesitancy in attacking may have been a costly mistake – had he upped the pace himself while Froome was adrift and in the red, and been joined by enough of the other favourites, a group could have been formed that worked together to gain substantial time. He did attack shortly after Froome caught back on, but by then it was too little too late.
None of the other GC riders opted to attack while Froome was on the ropes. It was especially unusual to see Fabio Aru (Astana), who had been so trigger happy to attack against etiquette when Froome’s suffered a mechanical on stage nine, fail to take up a more legitimate moment to make a move. He and the other favourites may live to regret their passivity.
Bauke Mollema claims long-awaited win
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) has been a stalwart of the Tour de France for years. He’s competed in each of the last seven editions, and finished in the top ten on three of those occasions.
Up until today, however, he had never won a stage. With his usual focus being directed towards riding for GC, it has been common to see the Dutch climber riding defensively among the favourites that out on the attack.
His approach has been different this year, however, having already targeted GC at the Giro earlier in the season. That has meant he has lacked the form for another GC bid at the Tour, but therefore gained the freedom to go out on the attack more.
He had already exercised that freedom with attacks earlier in the race, but today’s was easily the most impressive. Having made the large breakaway of the day, he attacked solo in what seemed too early to have much hope of sealing victory, but nevertheless ground it out for nearly 30km in his familiarly tortured style of riding to make it to the finish as victor.
No more doubt concerning Mikel Landa’s loyalty
It seems we have misjudged Mikel Landa. There were signs earlier in this race that suggested he was riding more himself than for his team, but today he quelled any such doubts by riding selflessly for his leader.
With Froome still several seconds adrift of the group of favourites, Landa dropped back to play the crucial role of pacemaker for his teammate, and bridge the gap.
It was certainly a selfless move, and possibly even a foolish one. By asking Landa to drop back and pace Froome, Sky were putting all their eggs in one basket, and risked seeing both plan A and B going up in smoke.
It would have been understandable for Landa to have responded angrily to such instructions, but instead the Spaniard was happy to risk his own chances in aid of his teammate. He looks set to continue to be a formidable ally heading into the Alps.
Warren Barguil is winning the King of the Mountains in style
One of the stars of this Tour de France has been Warren Barguil (Sunweb). He’s won a stage, held the polka-dot jersey since the start of the second week, and is frequenting pretty much every break that gets up the road.
He was at it again today, attacking on the category one climb at the start of the stage to gain maximum points, and then off the front again on the Peyra Taillade and briefly lead the race.
There wasn’t to be a repeat of his victory in Foix as he was caught soon after the summit, but the Frenchman did gain another haul of KOM points. He now leads that competition by 78 points, and his total of 116 points is more than three times that of his nearest contender, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).
It’s one of the most dominant performances in the Mountains Classification – or any classification for that matter – in recent years, and Barguil deserves great praise for the panache with which he is riding.