Thursday, 24 July 2014
In a demonstration of great strength on the final big climb of this year's Tour Vincenzo Nibali rode away from his rivals winning the stage by 1:10 from Thibaut Pinot. This is Nibali's fourth stage victory this year and it is the first time since Eddy Merckx that the winner of the Tour has won four stages.
Nibali has extended his overall lead to 7:10 with Pinot taking second place from Alejandro Valverde, who was the big loser today and dropped to fourth. With his third place on the stage Rafal Majka secured his win in the King of the Mountains competition. However, there is only 15 seconds separating Pinot, Peraud and Valverde in the fight for the two remaining podium places. The Bergerac time trial on Saturday will be exciting.
Stage 18: Pau to Hautacam 145.5km
Today's relatively short but tough stage with the climbs of the famous Tourmalet and to the finish atop Hautacam is the last mountain stage in this year's Tour. It would not be a surprise to see Nibali further cement his position as Tour leader by winning this stage. The real battle will be for the podium places with Valverde and Pinot keen to strengthen their positions before the time trial on Saturday and the threat from Jean-Christophe Peraud. Pinot's FDR probably made a mistake yesterday by going hard on the penultimate climb, leaving Pinot without enough teammates for the final climb.
The Hautacam was the springboard for Lance Armstrong's doped up Tour victory in 2000.
Should be another exciting stage to watch.
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
As expected today's stage produced another exciting race with Rafal Majka taking his second stage win this Tour and consolidating his hold on the Climbers Jersey. He now has 149 points to Vinzenzo Nibali's 118. Its a healthy but not invincible lead. There was a further shake up of the Overall Classification with AG2R coming off best in the Podium Stakes, while Vincenzo Nibali further tightened his hold on the Yellow Jersey. He is now 5:26 ahead of Alejandro Valverde and is clearly a level above everyone else in the race.
Romain Bardet's successful attack on the last descent forced Thibaut Pinot to chase on the ascent of Pla d'Adet, which then allowed Jean-Christophe Peraud to follow Nibali's attack and Pinot lost some ground with Peraud only 8 seconds behind him. Valverde looked to be in trouble but recovered, caught and overtook Pinot and gained 5 seconds. Because of his time trialling ability Peraud is looking good for a podium place but there is still, of course, the last mountain stage to come tomorrow. Expect further changes!
Stage 17: Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary Pla d'Adet 124.5km
Although, with the exception of the sole time trial, this is the shortest stage (124.5km) it will also be one of the toughest. There are four categorised climbs crammed into the second half with little if any respite between them. The first three climbs are 1st Cat, while the Pla d'Adet is an HC. Being a short stage with a mountain top finish the racing is likely to be fast. I expect further shifts in the overall classification.
The impressive Thibaut Pinot (now wearing the White Jesey for best young rider) will be looking to put more time into those who can time trial better than he, in particular Jean-Christophe Peraud who is just over a minute behind. Pinot would also love to move into second above Alejandro Valverde, who is only 49 seconds ahead and who has looked uncomfortably at the top of the climbs. He was briefly dropped by Pinot yesterday but recovered on the final descent. Today there is no final descent, so any gaps made on the final climb will stick!
Equally Romain Bardet and Tejay Van Gardenen may well try to get back some of the time they lost yesterday – certainly not to lose anymore. I wouldn't be surprised to see Vincenzo Nibali take another stage win today. Should be as exciting as yesterday!