DIGNE-LES-BAINS, France (AFP) — Nerves are set to jangle in the Tour de France peloton on Wednesday with the hair-raising Col d’Allos descent awaiting the riders in the Alps.
French talent Thibaut Pinot (DJ) said the 15.9-kilometer descent, in which riders drop more than a vertical kilometer in the space of 15 minutes, is “one of the most dangerous in France.”
And the peloton is on red alert after race leader Chris Froome’s Sky teammate Geraint Thomas survived a terrifying moment on Monday’s descent into Gap.
The 29-year-old Welshman was forced off the road by an out-of-control Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and sent over a precipice, banging his head on a lamppost along the way.
Thomas was fine to carry on but many riders are likely to be wary on the Col d’Allos descent during Wednesday’s 161km 17th stage from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup.
“It’s a very difficult descent, not so much because it’s technical but because the road surface is not very good,” said reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
The Sicilian gained time on the other overall contenders on Monday after a daring descent into Gap, having attacked just before the summit of the final climb, the Col du Manse.
Nibali is widely regarded as one of the best descenders in the world and with almost eight minutes to make up on Froome, he’s likely to try his luck off the Col d’Allos.
“The key is balance and you get balance from doing a lot of mountain biking in training,” added Nibali.
One person who knows the descent well is Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).
He won an identical stage at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, which likewise finished with the 6.2km climb to Pra Loup that carries an average gradient of 6.5 percent.
“I like these little roads, when the bends close in on you and you can master your trajectory alone,” Bardet said.
“It’s perhaps the only moment in modern cycling when a lone rider can go faster than the peloton.”
Certainly Froome is expecting some attacks at that juncture, notably from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), or Nairo Quintana (Movistar) — Quintana is closest to Froome at 3:10 back.
“I expect people really to take on the race there,” Froome said.
“Nibali, maybe the guys from Movistar, Alberto Contador — it wouldn’t be the first time he’s taken on the race on a descent.”
One who won’t be attacking, though, is American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), currently third at 3:32.
“At a certain point in the race people start to get a bit desperate, if they don’t have the legs on the climb they try to take big risks [on the descent],” van Garderen said.
“That’s not my favorite part of racing, I don’t like it when people risk life and limb to gain a few seconds — but that’s part of bike racing.”