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Gallery: Highlights of the 2017 Tour de France

Martin James
19 Jul 2017

The battle for the green jersey is well and truly on after Michael Matthews takes his second stage win of the Tour

The 2017 Tour de France was back on the road again on Tuesday, with no more rest days and just six stages remaining before the race finishes in Paris on Sunday.

The battle for the yellow jersey will be settled with a pair of Alpine stages on Wednesday and Thursday followed by a time-trial in Marseilles on Saturday, but there are no easy days in the final week of a Grand Tour, and so it proved on Stage 16 a ride of 165km raced in strong crosswinds that took their toll on a weary peloton.

In the end it was Michael Matthews who proved the strongest, dramatically reducing Marcel Kittel's lead in the green jersey competition after the German lost contact with the main field on an early climb. Here's the story of the race so far...

The Tour began in Düsseldorf, Germany with a 14km test against the clock on wet roads, leaving each rider to decide for themselves just how far they were willing to push the envelope and risk crashing out just to shave a few seconds from their overall time.

Some got it right – most notably Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who surprised more fancied time-trial powerhouses like Tony Martin, Chris Froome and Richie Porte to win the stage and the first yellow jersey. Of the GC favourites, Froome was the best performer in sixth place, just 12 seconds down.

Others will have been less happy – among them Richie Porte (49th), Nairo Quintana (53rd) and Alberto Contador (68th), but most notably Alejandro Valverde and Jon Izaguirre, who crashed on the slippery roads and had to abandon.

The rain was still coming down the next morning as the first road stage got underway, but by the time the peloton had made its way to Liege 204km later the skies had cleared, allowing the sprinters to take control of affairs and contest the first mass finish in relative safety.

All of which was music to the ears of Marcel Kittel, who notched up his first stage win of the Tour with a masterclass in sprinting that left all the other quick men in his wake.

Stage 3 was another largely flat stage, but a tricky 3rd category climb up to the finish line in Longwy meant Kittel was never in the hunt for the win. It was the kind of finish tailor-made for someone like world champion Peter Sagan, and the man himself didn’t disappoint, proving so much better than the rest that he even managed to unclip from his pedals 200m from the line and still hold on to win.

But from that high, Sagan’s 2017 Tour came crashing down just 24 hours later. A chaotic run-in to the end of Stage 4 had already claimed yellow jersey Geraint Thomas – who luckily came down within 3km of the line and so didn’t lose any time – when what remained of the peloton charged for the finish line in a much-reduced sprint finish.

Maybe the lack of numbers gave the sprinters too much room to change their line, but with several riders jockeying for position Mark Cavendish made contact with Sagan’s elbow and came down, ending his Tour de France on the spot as French champion Arnaud Démare crossed the line to win the stage.

Sagan immediately apologised, but his problems were only just beginning. First he was relegated in the stage results (having originally placed second), then it was suggested he had been docked points from his green jersey tally, but then came the shock move that he’d been disqualified from the race altogether.

Cue argument, accusation and considerable debate. At one point it looked like it might engulf the race altogether. But sure enough the peloton departed the next morning from Vittel, minus Sagan, and we reminded ourselves that we were headed for the Tour’s first summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles.

It may have been the only real climb of the day, but placing a steep first-category climb at the finish so early on in the race was always going to tempt the GC riders out of their shells, and they duly obliged. Astana’s Fabio Aru marked himself out as a real danger overall with a perfectly timed move to take the stage, while Dan Martin’s finishing abilities saw him draw four seconds clear of the battle of the GC heavyweights, Froome and Porte, which the Team Sky man shaded.

Thomas in the yellow jersey rode well to finish 10th, just behind Quintana and Contador, but he lost enough time to see Froome take over the race lead. Thomas remained an impressive second, however, with Aru now looking dangerous in 3rd overall.

With the GC men having had their day in the sun, Stages 6 and 7 saw the spotlight fall back on the sprinters. But Kittel was in no mood to share, winning both stages, first by besting Démare in Troyes then by shading Edvald Boasson Hagen by the tiniest of margins in Nuits-Saint Georges.

The lumpy profile of Stage 9 to Station des Rousses meant a hattrick was never on the cards, but a stage raced at high speed and in high temperatures complicated the prospect of a break making the day their own. In the end a large group did get clear, and from their number Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie was first to the summit of the 1st category Combe de Laisia-Les Molunes 12km from the finish and held on to win.

And so to Stage 9, with the triple HC climb whammy of the Col de la Biche, the Grand Colombier and Mont du Chat plus a further four categorised climbs packed into a 181.5km stage.

In a sense it was a stage that summarised the 2017 Tour so far in one day, containing controversy, tragedy, attacking riding – and a photo finish at the end of it all.

We saw Chris Froome having to drop back for a bike change on the Mont du Chat only to be attacked immediately by Aru. Then the rest of the GC leaders refused to work with the frustrated Italian, allowing Froome to rejoin the lead group. By that point we’d already seen Thomas abandon with a broken collarbone after crashing heavily, but sadly Porte then crashed out as well on the final descent to Chambery, having been instrumental in neutralising Aru’s attack on Froome just kilometres before.

After that, the photo finish that saw Rigoberto Uran confirmed as the winner despite Warren Barguil having raised his arms in triumph on the line was just the final twist in a bittersweet day that left the entire race, and everyone watching it, very much in need of the rest day that followed.

It was a diminished peloton that took up the fight again at the start of Stage 10 in Perigueux, with a relatively benign day of racing to greet their return to action as the race swung south and west towards the Pyrenees. Rafal Majka was a non-starter for Bora-Hansgrohe, leaving the team's Tour in complete disarray following the loss of Peter Sagan back on Stage 4.

In total, it left a peloton 180 riders strong, and two of their number – Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert) and Elle Gesbert (Fortuneo-Oscaro) wasted no time in going clear. However, as has become customary, the peloton didn't let them get too far down the road, and made the catch just under 10km from the finish. And as has become even more customary, Marcel Kittel easily won the sprint, taking by far the easiest of his four Tour stage wins to date.

Stage 11 from Eymet to Pau promised more of the same, and indeed looked to be going exactly as expected after a three-man break duly went away early, built up a lead and was steadily reeled back in by the sprinters' teams eyeing another fast, flat finish.

But Bora-Hansgrohe's Maciej Bodnar clearly hadn't read the script. He left his two breakaway companions behind with 25km to go in a make-or-break solo effort to upset the odds. He came agonisingly close to pulling it off too, holding on until well inside the final kilometre before being swallowed up by the peloton. All that remained was for Kittel to once again dominate the sprint and claim stage win number five.

Stage 12 took the peloton back into the mountains for a punishing 214.5km of pain in the Pyrenees culminating in the 20% ramps of the run-in to the finish at Peyragudes. Steve Cummings came close to a trademark solo success, but the pace set by Team Sky in the main field behind reeled him in.

But then Sky themselves were found wanting when it mattered most as Froome couldn't match any of his rivals on the run to the finish line. Romain Bardet took the stage, but Fabio Aru's third place was enough for him to take over the race lead from Froome.

Friday's Stage 13 was just 101km long, but the date on its own, July 14 – Bastille Day – would have guaranteed plenty of fireworks even on the flattest of stages. And with three 1st category climbs on the menu, it was anything but.

Frenchman Warren Barguil has been getting better and better as this Tour has gone on, and this was the day he'd finally deliver, being almost irrepressable from first kilometre to last to claim a famous win that sent the French faithful home happy.

He won a stage from a group containing Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador, both now looking for stage wins with their GC hopes now largely gone, while behind Aru just about held after a 27km mainly downhill run to the line punctuated by near-constant attacks from his rivals. 

The next day was flattish rather than flat, and that made all the difference when it came to Marcel Kittel's chances of adding to his five stage wins already. The end of the stage was more Spring Classics than Tour sprint stage, and Michael Matthews took full advantage to make it two in two for Team Sunweb, beating Classics king Greg van Avermaet to the line.

Matthews was suitably delighted, as was Froome (though he must have been as much surprised as he was delighted), when his typically dilligent positioning near the front of the peloton put him in position to gain time over Aru in the finale and snatch the yellow jersey back after just two days back in Team Sky colours.

He said afterwards taking the jersey back wasn't in the plan, and neither was what would happen on Stage 15. With a big break down the road, Froome was already feeling the heat from an increasingly energised AG2R lineup pushing the pace in the main field for local hero Bardet when he had to swap a broken rear wheel with a teammate with the pace at its hottest.

Froome duly managed to get back on, while Bauke Mollema pounced from the breakaway to take a solo win for Trek-Segafredo. Quick-Step Floors' Martin, meanwhile, again managed to gain a handful of seconds by going clear near the end of the stage, leaving the top six overall separated by just 77 seconds.

However, all Martin's hard work was undone in the crosswinds of Stage 16 on the road to Romans-sur-Isere. Martin and two other riders placed in the top 10 overall – UAE Team Emirates' Louis Meintjes and Trek-Segafredo's Contador – were caught the wrong side of a split in the field as a re-energised peloton forced the pace following the second rest day, and had lost nearly a minute by the time they crossed the finish line.

Michael Matthews had a far happier day at the office, taking both the intermediate sprint and stage win after Team Sunweb had set a relentless pace at the front of the peloton to successfully drop Marcel Kittel in the green jersey. Despite boasting five stage wins to Matthews' two, Kittel's lead in the points competition is now under real threat, having been slashed from 79 points to just 29 in a single day.

The sprinters are unlikely to feature much over the next couple of stages, however. Instead it will be the battle for ultimate GC honours that will take centre-stage on back-to-back Alpine stages featuring the Col du Galibier, the Col de la Croix de Fer and a stage finish atop the Col d'Izoard.

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