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Tour de France

TDF roundtable: Chaos on ‘cat mountain!’

Stage 9 of the Tour de France was dramatic, crash-filled, and controversial. Did Aru break an unwritten rule? What will we do without Porte?

The Tour de France served up another day of drama on Sunday’s stage 9 from Nantua to Chambery, and we are again forced to ponder ETHICS! Fabio Aru attacked Chris Froome on the slopes of Mont du Chat (cat mountain) just as the three-time Tour champ raised his hand to let everybody know he that his bike was messed up. It’s as if Aru wanted the media to chew on yet another great (should they) wait debate. Then, we watched in horror as Richie Porte crashed hard and abandoned. There were so many twists and turns, it’s tough to decide where to start. So let’s roundtable!

Aru’s attack on Mont du Chat has reignited the age-old debate around unwritten rules. Should he have attacked?

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Aru’s move definitely falls into the cheeky category. He almost hit Froome’s elbow as he rode past, so he cannot say he didn’t know Froome was calling back for help. It’s one thing to keep racing “when the race is on” and there’s no need to wait if a rival punctures after an attack is opened. The optics look bad for Aru, and Froome’s little shoulder bump later was a reminder of who’s boss.

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Fred Dreier @freddreier: C’mon Fabio, at least wait until Froome has dropped back to his team car before you attack! From a pure optics standpoint, Aru comes away looking like such a jerk for attacking right when the hand went up.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: These etiquette arguments are always tiresome. But this time, Aru was clearly being a punk on Mont Du Chat. There’s no way to argue with the TV footage — Froome realized something was wrong, put his hand up, and then Aru punched it. Caught red-handed.

Caley Fretz @Caleyfretz: I’m not a fan of unwritten rules, and not a fan of waiting when the race is on. This is sport! Luck is a big part of sport. Having a functional bike is part of sport, staying upright is part of sport. Enough of the waiting. This was one of just a few brief moments of this Tour de France where riders could try to make a difference, and a neutralization likely changed the final outcome. No more waiting. This is a relatively new tradition and one that needs to go away.

Should the favorites have done anything differently on the Mont du Chat climb after Froome returned to the group?

Andy: If Aru really wanted to be cheeky, he should have waited until Froome came back, and then jumped. Bah! This is a bike race, not a group ride. Sure, it’s bad form to attack when the yellow jersey has a puncture, but where do you draw the line? They’re churning up the day’s third hors categorie — no waiting, at least not for very long.

Fred: I wanted to see Astana try more tactics on the climb and on the flat run-in to the finish. It seemed like Astana was more interested in defending Aru’s second place against Bardet than trying to distance Froome.

Spencer: Maybe they could have attacked when Froome was trying to pair his head unit with the power meter on his spare bike. Froome didn’t look amazing, but he was still in control, enough so to make sure that he was collecting that oh-so-precious data for the Sky scientists. In all seriousness, it was a blistering pace — Contador, Yates, and Quintana were all dropped.

Caley: They should have attacked him immediately. I’d expect them to do the same to any other contender.

How does Porte’s abandonment change the remainder of the Tour?

Andy: Obviously, it eliminates one of Froome’s most dangerous rivals. Now Sky has fewer threats to cover, and there’s one less team to take it to Sky. It’s a huge loss for the Tour, and a massive blow for Porte. And a big boon for Froome.

Fred: The Tour’s GC race is over. Froome is unquestionably the strongest rider now. On to the green and polka-dot jersey competitions.

Spencer: Ouch, what a bummer. Fortunately he is okay, but the Tour de France GC race is seriously hurting. Bardet and Aru might take the fight to Froome, but neither can compare in that Marseille time trial in stage 20.

Caley: Unfortunately it may temper the race a bit. I’m not sure anyone else truly believes they can win, and that means they may end up racing for podium, not to knock Froome off it.

Was that Mont du Chat descent simply too challenging for this level of racing?

Andy: Descents are as dangerous as the riders make them. None of the riders or sport directors I spoke with after the stage overtly complained about the descent in both on- and off-the-record remarks. As one sport director said, “If you feel it’s too dangerous, you can always brake, right?”

Fred: Race organizers know that this is the era of death-defying descending, where riders will push beyond the limits on descents. I do think ASO and other organizers need to take that into consideration with course design. That said, Mont du Chat was hardly Hell Track from “Rad.”

Spencer: Difficult roads lead to exciting, difficult races. Remember the Rio road race? Racing is dangerous. I think the riders realize that, and it is up to them to choose how many risks they’ll take to win yellow.

Caley: It’s not like they put jumps on it. Every rider I spoke to after the stage said that yes, it was fast and scary but also that it’s bike racing and sometimes bike racing is fast and scary.

How badly does Geraint Thomas’s crash and abandonment impact Sky’s ability to defend until the end?

Andy: It’s a cut, but not fatal. The Sky armor is so deep, there are plenty of other legs to throw up in defense. He will be missed, but Sky is so strong it can lose a rider or two, and still handle the race.

Fred: Sky will miss his jokes around the dinner table, but I see no major chink in their armor. I hope they record some type of Instagram get-well-soon video for him.

Spencer: Based on how much time Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski, Sergio Henao, and Mikel Nieve spent at the front of the group going into and on Mont du Chat, I think Fortress Froome is still intact.

Caley: He has plenty of backup, but Thomas was a tactical card he can no longer play.