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What will happen on Stage 17 of the Tour de France?

Joe Robinson
25 Jul 2018

A muse at the potential outcomes of Stage 17, the 65km, grid-start mountain race to the Col du Portet

It could be fantastic, it could be a damp squib. Either way, it's something different. Stage 17 of the 2018 Tour de France has ripped up the usual rule book in more ways than one. 

Firstly, it is only 65km in length. While this is not completely unique, with the Tour including a 28km stage in 1988, it is uncommon and goes against the grain of Grand Tour racing in recent years.

Within these 65km are three classified climbs, the Montee du Peyragudes (14.9km at 6.7%), Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4% at. 8.3%) and finally the Col du Portet (16km at 8.7%). This means 58% of the stage will take the peloton uphill while the remaining 42% will be descent and valley floor.

If that is not enough, race organisers ASO have experimented with the format of the stage, adopting an F1-style gridding system. The stage will start with no neutralised zone with riders starting in order of the General Classification.

The first 20 riders will start in staggered rows, with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) at the head of affairs followed by teammate Chris Froome and then Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). From rider 21 onwards, groups of 20 will be kept in allocated pens, being released all in one go. 

The hope is that without the assistance of an entire team and the short nature of the stage, riders will be tempted to go alone from the gun in a bid to claw back time on the yellow jersey.

Obviously, nothing can be done to enforce attacking racing but a few potential outcomes do seem more likely than others.

Below, Cyclist takes a look at what these could be.

Team Sky shut things down

Egan Bernal, Michal Kwiatkowski and Wout Poels all begin within 600m of Thomas today.  Bernal is in the first mass wave while the others are not far behind. 

As soon as the flag drops, uncertainty within the first group will set in. Nobody will be willing to go all-in.  This will give the likes of Bernal, Kwiatkowski and Poels time to race ahead to the front of the back and get their usual mountain train chugging.

Kwiatkowski and Bernal will be strong enough to guide Froome and Thomas across the first two ascents of the day. By the third climb, Col du Portet, Poels -  a rider who races notoriously well in week three - will take control until with the help of Movistar who are still chasing that team classification.

With a few kilometres to go, Froome and Thomas will show their hand launching sucker punch 1-2 attacks. Dumoulin, Roglic, Bardet and maybe Landa will be able to respond at first before Froome cracks them all.

Thomas will sandbag Dumoulin allowing Froome to take the stage and claw back time on yellow, something he is not willing to let Thomas take home quite yet.

Movistar burst into life

One team that should use today to their advantage is Movistar. They have Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa within the first staggered group. Not that far behind. in group three they also have Andrey Amador.

Maybe they will have a sudden epiphany, the team classification is not everything, yellow is pretty important. 

First to go will be Valverde, shooting up the lower slopes of the Peyragudes burning out Kwiatkowski and Bernal. Next will be Landa on the Louron-Azet sticking it to his former team popping Poels in the process. Finally, Quintana will go it alone.

The small Colombian will produce a performance of which we have always expecting, simply riding all others off of the wheel. The Condor of the Andes will disappear into the clouds surrounding the Portet and into Tour folklore, the first Colombian winner of the yellow jersey.

After all, Quintana did tell press yesterday that he hopes for an 'awesome day' today and to start off with a 'bang, like a lion'.

A day for the nearly man

What harm will attacking from the gun do for the likes of Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin)?  This particular trio all sit at least five minutes adrift of the podium and in GC positions worse than their best Grand Tour finish.

Sure, a top 10 finish in the Tour is important but what's the point if you are not going to have a go?

Martin will, surely, its in his very nature to attack. He already went off the front earlier in this race because he was bored. Jungels rides for Quick-Step Floors, a team of serial winners, and he can go alone, just look at this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

As for Zakarin, who knows what he is capable of doing. He could crash at any moment but also ride the entire peloton off of his wheel. 

Either way, it is highly plausible that this kind of rider will attack from the gun and be allowed a certain amount of slack from Team Sky. If that is the case, they are all strong enough to go full gas for 65km, eventually winning the stage while the yellow jersey group fights over a handful of seconds.

Tour de France Stage 16 grid start 

Group 1 -

Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic, Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Steven Kruijswijk, Nairo Quintana, Jakob Fuglsang, Daniel Martin, Alejandro Valverde, Bob Jungels, Pierre Latour, Ilnur Zakarin, Guillaume Martin, Damiano Caruso, Greg Van Avermaet, Bauke Mollema, Mikel Nieve, Domenico Pozzovivo.

Group 2 -

Tanel Kangert, Warren Barguil, Egan Bernal, Ion Zagirre, Lilian Calmejane, Simon Geschke, Adam Yates, Rafal Majka, Gorka Izagirre, Pierre Rolland, Julian Alaphilippe, Robert Gesink, Julien Bernard, Daniel Martinez, Rudy Molard, Amael Moinard, Sylvain Chavanel, Tejay Van Garderen, Michael Valgren, Daryl Impey.

Group 3 - 

Andrey Amador, Arthur Vichot, Soren Kragh Andersen, David Gaudu, Jesus Herrada, Mathias Frank, Nicolas Edet, Stefan Kung, Kristijan Durasek, Maxime Bouet, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Antwan Tolhoek, Jasper Stuyven, Omar Fraile,  Laurens Ten Dam, Thomas Degand, Thomas De Gendt, Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan, Daniel Navarro.

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