Is Losing Yellow Actually Fabio Aru’s Best Hope to Win the Tour de France? – By Joe Lindsey
In his three Tour victories, Froome had never lost the yellow jersey after the first mountain stage (in fact, he’s only ever given it up once, in 2015 to Tony Martin). While it might make for a more exciting Tour if Froome is forced to attack the other riders, he’s clearly more comfortable defending—especially with that final time trial as a kind of insurance policy.
But it might also be good for Aru. His Astana team is now one of the weaker teams in the race with the crash-injury departures of Jakob Fuglsang and Dario Cataldo. On Stage 14, the team got so much help from BMC and Sunweb controlling the front of the race that for much of the day they had no riders on the front. But Aru was still largely isolated in the frenetic run-in to Rodez.
With the pack reduced to around 100 riders, Aru was far back in the field, seemingly uncomfortable with the aggressive, tight-quarters racing as Sunweb and BMC forced the pace up front. Only Michael Valgren and Andrey Zeits were even in the group with him, and both were quickly distanced on the final sharp, 570-metre-long climb to the finish line.
Whether he didn’t have the legs, or got caught in traffic, or some combination of both, Aru was well behind the trio of riders who are all neck-and-neck for the top spots on GC. Froome, ever alert, slammed on the gas to finish sixth behind the stage hunters, while the wily and experienced Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac and Quick-Step’s Dan Martin were right on his wheel. A few seconds back, Romain Bardet limited the damage as well. Aru, however, was 30th, 25 seconds behind. In fact, over the final 500 metres, according to official Tour data, Froome’s average speed was a full 6.6km/h faster than Aru’s.
— letourdata (@letourdata) July 15, 2017
Five riders are now within a minute and a half of Froome—in fact, the gaps among the top four tightened today. But now that Froome is back in the lead, Sky will doubtless do a much more capable job of controlling the pace on Sunday’s difficult route than would Astana. If that leaves Aru to simply follow wheels and wait for the Alps, it’s probably better for him anyway.
Apparently Winning Really Is Contagious
Yesterday, Sunweb’s Warren Barguil got the stage win after uncorking a solid sprint from a small breakaway. Today, it was teammate Michael Matthews, who mastered the 9.6-per cent rise to the finish in Rodez to hold off Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet (who won this stage in 2015). That’s a good pair of days for Sunweb. What’s more, Barguil and Matthews are roommates at the Tour. Perhaps the team should break them up and put them with other riders to spur even more success, since whatever they have seems to be spreading.
— michael matthews (@blingmatthews) July 14, 2017
Landa: I Know My Place
Perhaps the rider getting the most buzz at the Tour is Froome’s teammate, Mikel Landa. The super-domestique is fifth overall, just 1:17 behind his teammate. And after yesterday’s hard stage, where he marked Alberto Contador’s breakaway, he was swarmed at the team bus by Spanish-speaking media eager to play up his chances at the podium. The meme is that Landa is Froome’s Froome, an echo of the 2012 Tour where Froome seemed the stronger rider than teammate and captain Bradley Wiggins.
After initially deflecting questions about whether he was Sky’s strongest rider, Landa answered directly, saying “Yes, I have the legs; I don’t have the status.” Landa is trying to walk a very fine line. He’s a free agent at season’s end and said to be moving on to a new team next year to try his own GC hopes. But he’s also trying to be the good teammate to Froome. “I know my role and we’re here to win with (Froome),” he said. But when asked who would win the Tour, Landa quipped, “Chris, and if he doesn’t, then me.”
Right now, everyone’s mostly saying all the right stuff, including Froome. And despite a public dressing down by director Nicolas Portal outside the team bus after the Peyragudes Incident, there isn’t the same kind of outwardly visible tension as in 2012, when Wiggins had to throttle Froome back at certain points in the race.
But what happens if Froome shows weakness again, say, on the high and barren slopes of the Co d’Izoard on Stage 18? Sky says Landa gives them the perfect card to play, and that is absolutely true—as long as Froome is running in top shape. But in the heat of the race, if Froome is in trouble, we’ll find out whether everything at Sky really is all-for-one.
Nah, You’re Probably Not Getting that Strava KOM
One of the most fun things about Strava is when pros post their race files. Yesterday’s wallbanger of a stage to Foix saw new KOMs on each of the three climbs, including Romain Bardet averaging 20.4km/h on the steep Mur de Peguere to clock 26:34.
Right behind him: stage winner and current Tour de France KOM competition leader Warren Barguil Warren Barguil. Like a lot of riders, Barguil does not display power data.
But Ammatti Pyroraily, a Finnish racing fan, has an ongoing project on Twitter correlating estimated to actual power using formulas. He estimates that over the last, steepest part of the climb, Barguil was actually faster, and averaged 6 watts per kilogram of body weight. For comparison, a strong Category 3 racer would fight to average more than 4w/kg, and an untrained cyclist might produce as little as two w/kg. Or just get off and walk.