8 thoughts on the race to win the Tour de France heading into the final week
I like to think of the weeks of the Tour de France in terms of the phases of owning a couch. That first week is like taking the couch home, when everything is nice and springy, and you look forward to all the time youâll be spending together. Then that second week is an awkward wearing in phase, when things donât quite feel broken in yet, and yet no longer new.
That third week of the Tour is the sweet spot. We know what this Tour is, everything thatâs good and bad about it. And all thatâs left is to wear it out until itâs time to toss it to the curb.
There are six stages left in the 2018 Tour de France, and entering Stage 16 on Tuesday we have a good idea that one of three men â" Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, and Tom Dumoulin â" will wear the yellow jersey. I have no idea how itâs going to finish, and thatâs truly exciting. I do have some thoughts, however.
1. Iâm taking Thomas to win. And hell no I donât feel good about that. Thomas has faded in third weeks of Grand Tours before. He also has been a faithful friend and domestique to Froome for every single one of his four (and counting?) yellow jerseys. I donât like that he has never finished higher than 15th in a Grand Tour, nor do I like that he wonât quite give up the pretense that heâs riding for Froome.
But heâs in first place by more than a minute and a half with a decent enough time trial. You have to trust the head over the heart sometimes.
2. But I donât know what to make of Sky. And man, am I really going to bet against Froome? He and Thomas are playing sickeningly nice to each other, with Froome saying heâd sacrifice a fifth yellow jersey to help Thomas win. They seem earnest enough that one has to believe them at this point, but the Pyrenees loom, and Froome always thrives in third weeks, and ... man, am I really going to bet against Froome?
Both riders can say theyâre going to help each other, but as some point the gloves have to come off, right?
3. I really want Dumoulin to win. And I think he can, too. He has looked the equal of Thomas and Froome so far, and he is a notch above as a time trialist. There are two big questions though:
- Does the fact that he raced the Giro dâItalia matter? (We ought to be asking the same of Froome, but weâve long accepted heâs superhuman.) And,
- Are we necessarily confident heâll be that much better a time trialist on Stage 20 of a three-week Grand Tour? Fro ome has tended to dominate late time trials for good reason. Heâs not a brilliant time trialist, but he is under these circumstances.
Dumoulin has shown he is out for revenge. His sprint to nip Froome at the line of Stage 11 felt reminiscent of Froomeâs sprint to nip him on Stage 20 of the Giro after Froome had already sewn up the Maglia Rosa. Not only would a Dumoulin Maillot Jaune derail the Sky train, it would set up a must-see rematch with Froome in 2019. I just hope Dumoulin has six more days of racing in his legs.
4. I really wanted Romain Bardet to win, and now I donât know whether he ever will. Granted Iâm partial to Frenchmen, but I love Bardet as a rider, too. In the six years he has been riding the Tour, he has never hesitated to animate the race, even when itâs foolhardy to do so. And when those animations work, they can be breathtaking. Iâll never forget his solo effort to win a stage in Saint-G ervais Mont Blanc in 2016. He may have only taken back 30-some seconds on Froome, who had a lead of more than four minutes at the time, but that move, then, made me hope he might win the yellow jersey for France someday.
At his best, Bardet is one of the best climbers in the world. Unfortunately, his margin for error in Grand Tours is zero without a respectable time trial, and when he finished more than 30 seconds back on the race leaders on Stage 11, his hopes of winning the Tour were virtually dashed. Bardet can beat anyone on any mountain stage, but if Have Nothing Go Wrong is a crucial part of your game plan, then winning the Tour may never be feasible.
At 27 years old, and with Froome and Dumoulin having ridden the Giro dâItalia in May, this ought to have been Bardetâs year. This is not his year, and now itâs more clear that this may never be his race. But bless him for trying all the same.
5. But also my god, what if PrimoÅ¾ Roglic wins. Weâre not talking nearly enough about how a guy with a damn good time trial is less than a minute back from Froome. Letâs just keep it that way. Maybe Skyâs forgotten about him, too.
6. While Iâm here, letâs pour one out for Dan Martin and Vincenzo Nibali, too. The Tour de France needs animators, and those two did their damndest.
Weâre talking about Martin in the past tense because a string of crashes, punctures, and other assorted bugaboos have put him nearly seven minutes back in the general classification. He entered the Tour claiming he was going to treat it like â21 one-day racesâ and has rode like it, winning on the MÃ»r de Bretagne and attempting a 50-kilometer solo attack on Stage 15 because âI was bored.â Martinâs biggest problem has always been staying on his bike. If he can ever do that for three weeks, I think he could compete for the yellow jersey.
Nibaliâs biggest skill, meanwhile, has often been ho w hard it is to knock him off his bike. And if not for severe flare smoke and an idiot who forgot to remove his camera strap, he might have had a win on Alpe dâHuez. Nibali is perhaps one of the greatest Tour animators of all time, especially in the era of power meters and teams riding for booby prizes because theyâve given up on yellow too easily.
7. [turns head, glares at Movistar]
8. In all seriousness, Iâm enjoying this Tour de France as much as any of recent memory. Iâve seen some debate about whether this a strong field or a weak field, simply because Froome and Dumoulin should have tired legs and Thomas is in contention when he has never been before.
That discussion is academic. This is a race, one with three legitimate contenders for yellow (and perhaps a sneaky fourth) heading into the last week of racing. That doesnât happen often. We have had a full week of infernal Alpine climbs. We got to watch that Stage 12, where the best riders in the world threw haymakers at each other up Alpe dâHuez and yet finished at a standstill. Now we get to enjoy the end of this race for more than the scenery.
If Dumoulin wins, Iâll be ecstatic. If Thomas wins, Iâll be happy itâs not Froome. And if Froome wins, Iâll suck it up and admit that he is brilliant fun to watch even if his gills are seeping salbutamol.
I quite like the groove Iâve worn into this Tour, and itâs going to be really, really difficult to just toss it out when the end does come.
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