So, what’s Sky’s plan? Geraint Thomas (EVS with Ladbrokes) has had his best ever Grand Tour run and in any other circumstances most would consider this Tour done and dusted but Chris Froome (6/5 to win with Karamba) is no ordinary rider and he is going for no ordinary feat, five tours and four Grand Tours in a row along with the first potential Giro-Tour double which would double stamp his name in the history books for better or worse.
Here’s the leader board ahead of the last week of racing:
Transitional but testing, 218km to a much-used tour destination in Bagnères-de-Luchon and with the action really kicking in after 130 kilometres. We then have the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, the Col de Menté, and the Col du Portillon which tops out with just 10 kilometres until the finish over a rapid descent. There’s the potential for fireworks.
65km, three climbs and 3.200 meters of vertical gain. From the departure the riders will face the Montée du Peyragudes the Col de Val Louron-Azet, followed by the final summit finish of the race to Saint-Lary-Soulan/Col de Portet, 16km at 8.7%. There is truly limitless potential here.
There’s also the brand new factor of the grid start, the riders will be staged according to their position on general classification. Riders will be put into different groups along a 70 metre-wide stretch of road – and then set off in batches of 20 according to their place on the general classification, which suits Sky, Movistar and Lotto-Jumbo, although it remains to be seen if this makes much difference. Punters should bear this in mind as a part of their cycling betting strategy for the remaining stages.
The race temporarily heads out of the Pyrénées for a flat stage into Pau and some respite for the GC contenders and one last Pre-Paris chance for winless sprinters Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare. The field of sprinting contenders has been decimated in relative terms so the break will always have more of a chance than through the first week.
The last chance for the pure climbers to take time in the Pyrenees. A monster stage takes in the Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, Col des Bordères and Col d’Aubisque before a descent into Laruns. There’s 20 kilometres of downhill, which gives those dropped on the last climb a chance to rejoin attackers, although that said the descent is technical enough to give others an advantage.
With a time trial on the agenda for the following day, this is the last chance for the climbers to impose themselves on the race, especially those who can also take advantage of the descent to the finish in Larun which is sure to be dicey.
Just like last year, the penultimate day of the Tour – and the last proper road stage - will see the race decided in a time trial. This is 31 kilometres and a real sting in the tail, with barely a meter of flat through the Basque country. The Côte de Pinodieta is 900m at 10.2% but the riders will have been rocking and rolling well beforehand and there’s 610 meters of elevation, not insignificant in just 31 kilometres. The specialists advantage over the climbers will be much reduced.
Whom will be left to contend the sprint? Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel finished outside the time limit on La Rosière and then the next day Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and two-time stage winners Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNl-Jumbo) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) also didn’t make it through the Alps.
Peter Sagan took advantage to win another sprint the day after in Valence when he beat Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and they are three big names who will be eyeing victory.