One great day. That’s all that stands between a dozen men and the Tour de France podium. One great day, one great climb, a bit of a gap. That’s all it would take.
Though Chris Froome insists that the fight for the yellow jersey is far from over (given what’s happened so far this Tour, he has a point) the real action is happening behind him. The battle for the podium is guaranteed to be absolutely savage. Even after two weeks of racing the difference between third and 13th is barely over three minutes. Third and 8th? Just two minutes.
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Chris Froome’s lead over second place is 1:47. It’s the largest gap anywhere inside the top 13. The last man with a semi-reasonable shot at making the final is Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 13th, who needs 3:09 to get himself into third overall (Adam Yates, 2:45 behind Froome). The average gap between each spot ahead of him, up to Yates, is just 17.6 seconds.
It’s the same story for Fabio Aru, Dan Martin, Romain Bardet, Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte. Each needs just one great day to jump a heap of riders in front of them, perhaps even onto the Paris podium.
“Once you get into the third week of a grand tour it’s like Russian roulette, it could be anyone’s day,” van Garderen said. They’re all just hoping it’s their bullet that fires.
The contest will take place across four brutal days in the Alps, a group of stages that Froome has described as the hardest of this Tour. Yes, harder than the Pyrénées, harder than Arcalis, even with its hailstorm.
“It’s going to be a very testing week, probably even tougher than any of the stages we’ve had up until now,” Froome said.
Complicating matters is the unproven three-week métier of current third place Adam Yates. A crack in the young Brit’s armor could turn into a fissure in the final week, and open up the position he holds now to any of the many men close behind.
“Anything can happen, we have a week to go,” Yates said. “You can have a bad day and lose minutes. If it works, it works. If not, no pressure or stress. Every day we are learning.”
Following the second rest day, which can do unpredictable things to riders’ legs, the Tour will head south from Bern to its next uphill finish, atop the Hors Categorie Finhault-Emosson at nearly 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). That stage is followed by the 17km uphill time trial to Megève, which is guaranteed to produce gaps, and then the massive day to Mont Blanc, with another uphill finish at Le Bettex. The penultimate stage to Morzine has another downhill finish, descending from the HC Col de Joux Plane.
“Some people are saying the Tour is decided, that’s absolute rubbish,” Froome said after Friday’s time trial. He’s right, of course, but the quote is perhaps more applicable to the positions behind him. Barring incident, it looks increasingly likely that Froome will ride into Paris with yellow. But which two men will stand on either side on the Champs-Élysées? Those remain even more difficult to predict.