For anyone unaware of the importance of having a strong team at the Tour de France, Sunday’s stage 15 to Le Puy-en-Velay demonstrated exactly why the world’s best riders need an equally able support cast.
After missing the break engineered by Romain Bardet‘s buccaneering AG2R La Mondiale squad, the yellow jersey the 4/11 favourite Chris Froome had reclaimed on Saturday looked lost following a puncture to his back wheel.
Not only did his right-hand man Michal Kwiatkowski give him his own back wheel, fellow lieutenants Mikel Nieve and Sergio Henao paced him halfway up the category one Col de Peyra Taillade and, after some hard work of his own, Froome met Mikel Landa.
Landa brought him back to the leading group and marshalled the pack all the way home, chasing down any attacks to ensure his team-mate finished without losing a single second.
It was a case of roles reversed for the 32-year-old, having himself been the strongest man in the race when working domestique duties during Bradley Wiggins’ success in 2012.
While Landa may not be as well-rounded as his colleague, the form he showed on Sunday proved what amazing condition he is in heading into the final week, and he now looks likely to follow in Richie Porte’s footsteps by leaving Sky for a leadership role elsewhere.
So what can we expect from the final six stages? The Tour resumes on Tuesday with a breakaway opportunity and the same can also be said of stage 19. However, stages 17 and 18 are all about the general classification as the race heads into the Alps.
For us neutrals, Saturday’s time-trial around Marseille could be fascinating and the organisers will be crossing everything possible in the hope that Froome is no longer in the lead, having won against the clock in both 2013 and 2016.
The Brit’s ability on a TT bike gives him a massive advantage over his rivals, so he will be expecting plenty of attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, especially with three Hors Categories on the parcours.
Of his current rivals, Bardet (23/4 Outright) looks the strongest, especially with his team again likely to go on the offensive, but the same cannot be said of second-placed Fabio Aru (10/1 Outright), who like most of his Astana outfit appears spent.
This could leave an opening for Cannondale-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran to grab a podium place at 10/11, having been arguably the surprise package in the battle for the GC.
The route also bodes well for an interesting week in the green jersey as although Quick-Step Floors’ Marcel Kittel appears to have it sewn up at 1/5, Sunweb’s Michael Matthews (15/4) is sure to go looking for intermediate points before doing battle for the final time on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.
Matthew’s colleague Warren Barguil has been one of the stars of the Grande Boucle this year with his superiority reflected in his price of 1/25 to retain the mountains award, while Orica-Scott’s Simon Yates also looks safe in the young rider’s jersey at 1/6.
It all seems fairly straightforward although bike racing always does. However, if the thrilling 104th version of the Tour has taught us anything, it is to expect plenty more twists and turns over the next week.
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