Sunday, stage 15, Grand Colombier, primetime, hardest stage of Tour, fireworks for sure — six categorized climbs – three of them 1st or HC killer.
The cyclingnews preview summed up the prediction: “It’s going to be action-packed.” This was the day that Nairo Quintana of Movistar and his deluxe mountain domestique Alejandro Valverde would attack the yellow jersey of Chris Froome.
Time to watch the explosions happen, shit was gonna get real, there would be blood, the GC would convulse.
Well, I almost fell asleep.
What a disappointing, dull and ultimately depressing stage. Movistar threw Valverde up the road and for thirty seconds there was the hope that Quintana would launch a savage acceleration and bring the race to life. Nothing.
Froome put in a “dummy” attack that lasted about 2 seconds — which was two seconds longer than any aggressive move from Quintana. It was truly a WTF stage. Sleepwalking on a bike.
Instead of fireworks, we got a heavy dose of classic Team Sky tempo riding from Wout Poels, Mikel Nieve, Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas while their captain Froome sat in their wheels and everyone else watched the race head to the final podium in Paris without them.
Oh sure, Astana made a game attempt to push the pace and spring Fabio Aru up the road. Didn’t work — as the strongest, richest, most stacked Tour squad in recent memory simply amped up the wattage a big and shut him down.
Little Frenchman Romain Bardet danced away and it was a damn short dance. Returning back to the peloton, he looked like a little boy who had done something stupid and paid the price.
And that was the show, folks. Dispiriting because it had all the brutal signals that the Tour was well and truly over for everyone but Froome. Quintana is running out of road and time and seems unable to even match the climbing power of Froome. He can’t even get past three Sky chauffeurs in front of him. Sad for him, terrible for us viewers.
The crazy stage to Ventoux was a reminder that anything can happen in this Tour so we’re not prepared to write game over. However, Quintana and Movistar have so far given us no reason to believe they’re still in the race for yellow.
It’s a reminder of how much the race misses Alberto Contador, a man with the boldness to attack at any moment. With the Spaniard out of the race, it seems highly unlikely that young Adam Yates (Orica) or a surprising Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) is going to knock Froome and Sky off the top step.
While BMC’s Richie Porte appears to be able to stick with Froome in the high mountains, his bad luck and puncture in the first week have left him with more deficit than he can make up. Teammate Tejay van Garderen lost time on the Grand Colombier and seems to be hanging on for dear life.
What a shame if the final week is simply a high wattage processional for Chris Froome. Makes you truly wonder about parity, team budgets, the Sky rich and the everyone else poor. That’s not good for pro cycling.