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Tour de France

Tightest Tour in history, at least for now

The 2017 Tour de France is shaping up to be one of the closest in history. After 13 stages, the top-four riders are within 35 seconds of yellow.

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FOIX, France (VN) — In a sport replete with history, here’s an interesting first: Four riders are within 35 seconds of each other on GC following 13 stages.

Call it the closest Tour de France in history.

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The Tour rolls out of the Pyrénées with nothing decided. Everything is up for grabs. The Tour’s never seen anything like it.

“I hope people at home are enjoying this,” said Cannondale-Drapac sport director Charly Wegelius. “Who knows how it will end. It’s nice that it is so close. I couldn’t make a call when it’s like this.”

According to official Tour record-keepers, no Tour has had three riders within 30 seconds of the lead after 13 stages. Add Rigoberto Urán in fourth, and it’s the closest Tour in history at the halfway mark.

“It’s fun,” said Dan Martin (Quick-Step), sixth at 1:32 back. “It’s been a long time since you saw a Tour so aggressive. Everyone needs to take time on Chris [Froome] before that last time trial. Hopefully it’ll be a great race all the way to Paris. Maybe even in Paris.”

Four riders ended Friday’s stage 13 within 40 seconds of each other. Race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) defended his yellow jersey just six seconds ahead of Sky’s Froome. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) is third at 25 seconds back. Colombian star Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) in fourth, just 35 seconds back.

Of course, Tours have ended close before. Greg LeMond won by the tightest margin in Tour history when he took his famous final-day coup against Laurent Fignon by eight seconds in 1989. In fact, the Tour has been won by less than one minute on eight occasions.

What’s going on? First, it’s the way the 2017 route is designed. Although the peloton’s already raced one time trial, two summit finishes and four days total in the mountains, the route hasn’t included major mountaintop finales or longer time trials where Froome usually whacks big chunks of time against his rivals.

The shorter, punchier finishes, such as Belles Filles and Peyragudes, meant that the differences were smaller.

The Tour organizers wanted a tightly bound race, and they’re getting one.

Another factor is Froome. The three-time champion clearly isn’t at his best form. Team Sky has tried to tamp down discussion that Froome is vulnerable. The plan was for him to attack before the Peyresourde summit Thursday, but he couldn’t do it. Once the bunch hit the wall at the finale, Froome struggled against the explosive riders such as Aru and Bardet.

With Aru in yellow, it’s no longer up to Team Sky to throttle the peloton into submission. On Friday, Team Sky attacked and spiced things up even more.

“It is a bit of an unknown for us, but also for the rest of the peloton,” said Sky sport director Servais Knaven. “The entire peloton is used to Sky controlling the race, and now this is gone. It could be interesting because no one really knows what will happen.”

There’s no guarantee the race will remain this close all the way to Paris, but it sure is fun now.

The top eight is still packed relatively tight considering where we are in the race.

Fifth-place Mikel Landa (Sky) hovers at 1:09 back. Eighth-place Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is still only 2:07 back. Usually those are the differences seen in the top-three after the Pyrénées and two weeks of racing.

“Now everyone is looking to the third week,” Bardet said. “I think the Alps will decide this Tour. We all need more time on Froome before the time trial. We all must attack.”

Listen to our discussion of the Tour’s tight GC standings on the VeloNews podcast:

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