Team Sky Will Almost Certainly Win The Tour De France
The first clue that Stage 17 of the Tour de France wouldn’t bring the fireworks we’d hoped for was when the much-discussed, Formula One-style “start grid” fizzled out. With it went the last real chance for anyone to challenge Team Sky for the overall win.
For the Tour’s shortest road stage in at least two decades, organisers seeded riders on the start line according to their place in the General Classification. That meant the top 20 riders would start in specific positions, with each grouping of 20 after that in loose pens. With just 65K of racing, no neutral rollout, and heading straight into the first of three climbs, it was a unique opportunity launch an attack with fresh legs – and without Team Sky’s full, dominating strength at the front of the race.
Entering the stage, Sky had overall leader Geraint Thomas and the second-place Chris Froome in the top two spots. Its only other rider in the first three groups was Egan Bernal, 23rd overall. To hit the front quick, Michal Kwiatkowski (59th) and Wout Poels (65th) would have had to thread through several groups of riders. Teams Movistar, LottoNL-Jumbo, and Ag2r la Mondiale were well positioned to take advantage, since each had at least two riders in the top 20 that they could send on the attack and catch Sky short of numbers.
What I had hoped to see was aggression from the gun. If a team like LottoNL had strung it out early, Sky’s Luke Rowe and Jonathan Castroviejo might never have seen the front of the race. Literally in Kilometer Zero, Sky would have gone from seven riders to five. And since Sky rules by roster strength, there was never a better time to best the team with so little work.
Instead, as the start lights flashed green, Thomas lazily clipped in and rolled out as if it were a coffee ride, not the most suspenseful stage of the Tour and the biggest test of his ability to defend his lead. Most of the other teams just followed, looking around as if they weren’t sure how to handle such an unorthodox stage.
Credit Movistar: The team sent Alejandro Valverde in the early break with Marc Soler for company. And said break was full of big names like Julian Alaphilippe, Rafal Majka, and one-time GC candidate Adam Yates. But without any real threats besides Valverde, Sky didn’t seem to respond.
Rowe, who should never have been allowed to reach the front, ended up leading the pack over the first climb. And I do mean pack. I had fully expected a fast early pace to whittle the yellow-jersey group to 30 riders or fewer. But Rowe chugged over the KOM point at Peyragudes with at least 50 guys still in contact.
Again, the stage was only 65K long. With 15K down at that point, riders like Primož Roglič and Tom Dumoulin were running out of road to take back time on Thomas, whose team still sat at full strength.
Thomas, ultimately, proved invulnerable. We did get a glimpse of what might have been on the last climb, when Roglič finally roused enough to attack and put Froome in difficulty. In just a few short kilometres at the summit finish, Froome lost :45 to the Thomas-Roglič-Dumoulin trio.
What if? What if Steven Kruiswijk had gone in that early move? What if Roglič or Dumoulin had gone with Dan Martin when he attacked later? What if Vincenzo Nibali, an old-school swashbuckler who doesn’t give a damn about minor podium places, was still in the race?
Thomas now sits 1:59 ahead of Dumoulin in the overall. Barring some kind of unforeseen collapse, there’s almost zero chance Dumoulin will make that time back. And with Froome’s fall, Team Sky’s leadership questions are resolved. All will ride for Thomas now.
Wednesday was the shot. When you see the shot, you must take it. But nobody did.
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