Tour de France Stage 17 Preview
Caleb Ewan took his second win and became the first sprinter to win two stages in the race. It was a rather calm stage despite the wind, but the headwind in the final part of the stage as expected didn't give a chance to those in front, in the end it was a messy sprint but Deceuninck found their way perfectly through the decimated leadouts, Morkov and Richeze put Viviani in the ideal position but Ewan was just that little faster in the final sprint, behind them came Groenewegen completing the podium.
Positive: Lotto Soudal taking the third stage win of the race, Ewan bouncing back from a late first win to take his second sprint in a row.
Negative: Jakob Fuglsang had to abandon due to a crash inside the final 30 kilometers, it was sometimes tense in the peloton with the strong wind blowing and Geraint Thomas hit the deck aswell early on the race, luckily with no big consequences.
Stage 17 is also a familiar sight although with a small difference. So it's 200 kilometers long, a very long stage and finishes in Gap, a city that hosts the finish often and usually sees breakaway wins. In fact it's the 5th time Gap hosts a finish this decade and the breakaway as taken the win every time, I expect nothing less with the profile very similar. But the final climb is a bit different than normal.
The Col de la Sentinelle will be climbed instead of the Col de Manse, it's an easier ascent and may allow the rouleurs and possibly sprinters in the break to survive and come back in the descent to town. The climb is rolling, it isn't steep enough for the climbers to really dominate but it is enough to create gaps, at the summit the rider(s) in front will determine the dynamics, as a solo rider can make it to the finish with the technical descent that starts with 8.5Km to go, but a group may have any organization ruined and riders coming back are always a possibility.
Luckily the temperarutes will drop slightly due to the cloudy sky and a slight chance of rain, but the wind completely benefits the already likely scenario of a successful breakaway. It will come from the south when in Gap, until there it will variate but it will generally be a tailwind as it will run through the valley, with some sections where it will come from the west and everything inbetween, with an intensity of around 10Km/h.
Why this is a stage for the breakaway
As it was the case in stage 12 there's no doubt that this is a stage to be battled between the riders in the break. First, the day antecipates the decisive weekend in the Alps, meaning that already from the start it's clear the GC contenders won't be happy if they have to spend unnecessary energy. Second, the profil is nowhere near what the climbers need to create gaps, alright the descent to Gap is technical but the climb isn't steep and isn't long, the only rider I could see making a move would be Alaphillipe himself but honestly that is far from a good tactic if everything goes normal.
Third it's a mostly flat day. Even if in the eventuality that Alaphilipe attacks he won't gain bonus seconds, no team will commit to chase a whole 200 kilometer stage where the reward is very unlikely, and where the fatigue caused would be very felt during the next few days. This, it has breakaway written all over it.
But not so fast, it may be but it doesn't mean it will be a less exciting day, you see, the climb of the Col de la Sentinelle, summiting close to the line isn't one where the pure climbers will have their way. In fact it's even a climb where punchy, or big engine riders can be as strong as the mountain goats, there is a 9% around 2.5Km away from the summit but in general it's a big ring climb, where power will be very important. However, it's a tricky descent to the finish where any gap can be crucial, it will be interesting to see wether someone can summit it alone or the riders will go through it thick and fast. The possibility of attacks before the final climb succeeding is also real as there will certainly be marked men in the breakaway and those who will want to distance them before the climb.
But how to find the perfect rider for it?
There are riders that well, as good as they are in the sprint this stage suits them even for the likely scenario. Sagan, Trentin, Matthews and Colbrelli have all been in breakaways, they can all climb well and they can all roll on the flat very well (not to mention Sagan's descending skills). For the latter three it's likely their last chance to win a stage and the way all of them have been climbing this season it's undeniable that they come as favourites for the stage, they won't have the pressure the climbers will have, and they are definetely riders that can escape beforehand and surprise aswell, and in the case of a group finish they have obvious advantages.
From the powerful riders, the engines that aren't necessarily climbers the Lotto Soudal squad is brilliant for this type of stage. There's Tiesj Benoot who's the more suited to the climbing but riders like Tim Wellens and Thomas de Gendt are perfect for such profile. The latter seems to have been quite fatigued the last few days but in case it's temporary he can repeat his feat of stage 8. AG2R have Oliver Naesen and Benoit Cosnefroy who should really like this profile, Greg van Avermaet is another one still looking for an elusive stage win and his form as seemed on the spot this July, Rui Costa will surely try again as Sunweb will, Matthews the priority but Roche and Kamna are solid choices, as is Xandro Meurisse of Wanty, and I assume Katusha will also try to play big tomorrow but it's hard to see who could take a win from them.
Bahrain, EF, Astana, Mitchelton come with big big depth of contenders and chances are the stage will fall for one of them. Bahrain besides Colbrelli have Teuns and Mohoric who are very fond of such profile, naturally agressive riders they can combine very well. Nibali and Caruso will likely save themselves for the high mountains but there's always a chance. EF, they have Simon Clarke and Alberto Bettiol, and if it comes down to the climb Michael Woods is one to consider. Mitchelton have already three stage wins from the break, I don't see Simon but Adam Yates may give it a go, Jack Haig and stage-winner Daryl Impey are good calls.
Finally Astana, they lost their leader, starting from here there's very little goal besides getting a stage win and there are plenty of riders who can take it. Most notably Alexey Lutsenko and Omar Fraile perhaps the more suited, but with Izagirre/Bilbao/Cort Nielsen/LL.Sanchez are also genuine contenders if they find themselves in front.
⭐ Colbrelli, Benoot, Naesen, Mohoric, S.Clarke, Haig, Impey, Fraile, Alaphillipe
I foresee Alberto Bettiol as perhaps the biggest name to note. EF are looking for a stage win and he definetely has the freedom, and seeing how well the finish fits him he is very likely to be seen contesting the stage, he covers all sides, good sprint, good climbing and great rolling skills.
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