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Stage 20: Last call for glory on the Semnoz

LE GRAND BORNAND, France (VN) — The yellow jersey is all but decided, and sprinters will have their Sunday on the Champs Élysées, but for many of the riders in the Tour de France, last call for Tour success will come down to 10.7 kilometers of roadway high above Lac d’Annecy.

Coming on the heels of five other categorized climbs, the 8.5-percent slopes of the hors categorie Annecy-Semnoz climb will be a final, torturous chance for some riders and teams to avoid leaving the Tour empty handed, and for others to make a last ditch attempt to improve their lot before Paris.

With two days remaining in this Tour, many of the spoils have already been divided.

After deftly handling Friday’s long, wet ride at Le Grand Bornand, Chris Froome’s general classification win appears airtight. The Sky leader has a comfortable 5:11 in hand over Alberto Contador, and shows no sign of weakening before the penultimate day.

Capitalizing on two crushing days in the mountains, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has extended his lead in the best young rider classification to an unassailable 10:36 over Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Michael Kwiatkowski.

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) wrapped up his green jersey in the second week of the Tour, and like Froome and Quintana, just needs to stay safe and arrive intact in Paris to collect his jersey on the Champs.

And still, tomorrow’s stage promises to be a brawl across the Haute Savoie. Many riders and teams are still looking for glory in this Tour, where the spoils have been highly concentrated in the hands of a few teams. Sky has taken three stage wins and the yellow jersey. Movistar has two stages and the white jersey. Omega Pharma-Quick Step has four stage wins, and Argos-Shimano has three. Six other teams have one stage win each. That leaves 12 of the 22 teams without a victory.

Among those teams are some of the most powerful in the peloton, including BMC Racing, Belkin, Katusha, and Astana, teams that will be hard-pressed to explain coming home empty handed to their sponsors.

Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, despite consistent performances, has not achieved his GC goals — he’s currently seventh, at 9:33 — and may look to make amends with a stage win, as will Joachim Rodríguez, though with both men inside the top 10, their hopes will lie in a late move high on the Semnoz that won’t threaten to upset the GC.

BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen could seek to avenge his near miss on Thursday’s stage to Alpe d’Huez.

With two riders, Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam, at the top of the general classification for much of the Tour, Belkin will seek to bring home something tangible for its new sponsor.

Of the jersey competitions, only the polka dot jersey of best climber remains to be truly settled.

Froome’s pursuit of yellow, which has included mountaintop stage wins at Ax 3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux, has gained him enough points to hold the polka dot as well. On Friday morning, his closest rival was Quintana, but that was before Pierre Rolland (Europcar), last year’s malliot pois and an 11-stage holder of the jersey this year, went on a day-long points hunting mission.

Stage winner Rui Costa (Movistar) caught Rolland before the top of the final climb, the Col de la Croix Fry, leaving Rolland just one tantalizing point away from standing on the podium in Paris. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) lies third, just six points back, and Quintana is fourth, seven points behind Froome. Alpe d’Huez winner Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is fifth, another four points back. With six categorized climbs on tomorrow’s profile, the KOM competition is still very much a five-man race.

How that contest shakes out may come down to just how interested Froome is in adding dots to his wardrobe.

Ever cautious, the race leader refuses to look past guarding the yellow jersey tomorrow, telling reporters, “[The mountains classification] really would be a great bonus, but the yellow jersey has to come first, and I have to make sure that’s 100 percent sure before I think about the polka-dot jersey.”

The mountains classification and the battle for the stage will all play out against a battle to consolidate placings at the top of the general classification. The four men behind Froome – Contador, Quintana, Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Rodriguez — are separated by just 47 seconds.

“I think the GC guys are gonna ride. Katusha for Rodriguez and Movistar for Quintana,” said Jan Bakelandts, who secured a solid Tour debut for his RadioShack-Nissan team on stage 2, in Ajaccio, where he won the stage and took the yellow jersey.

“They’re going to have to attack if they want to win a stage,” said Sky’s Richie Porte of the stage hunters. “But there are a lot of GC guys who are going to want to win tomorrow, because chances are if you win that stage you’re going to put some good time into the others.”

The opportunities to take time and spoils in this Tour have almost run out, and for everyone but the sprinters, the deadline lays at the summit of the Semnoz.

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