With two days completed in the Alps and just two remaining, Chris Froome still retains his 3 minutes and 10 second lead to Colombian rider Nairo Quintana in the Tour de France general classification, but there are suggestions that difficult summit finishes to La Toussuire and L’Alpe d’Huez will offer a real opportunity for Quintana to launch a series of attacks in the hope of dislodging his rival from the yellow jersey.
This past week has punctuated by several falls involving the leading riders with Geraint Thomas disappearing down a small ravine on the descent into Gap on Monday, only to remount seconds later and finish the stage less than minute behind his fellow Team Sky member Froome.
Then on a difficult descent from Col d’Allos on Wednesday, Alberto Contador failed to negotiate a rather hazardous bend in the road and ripped his shorts when sliding along the road. He eventually continued but lost over two minutes in time as the stage finished at Pra Loup. Earlier that day, third placed Tejay van Garderen abandoned the race due to illness after losing contact with the main peleton.
Fatigue is now affecting many of the riders with the French heat not helping matters but Quintana appears to be gaining strength as the Tour approaches its climax. The Colombian attempted an attack on the slopes of Pra Loup on Wednesday but as per previous recent efforts, he looked back at his opponents rather than continue his momentum, unlike with Froome when he won the stage at La Pierre Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees. It would appear that Quintana just lacks that extra confidence to really challenge the 2013 Tour de France winner.
Thursday’s stage to Saint Jean de Maurienne offered few opportunities to gain time on Froome with a final descent into the French town, although the notoriously difficult Col du Glandon did produce gaps among the general classification riders before they regrouped on the descent. Frenchman Romain Bardet claimed victory in the stage after negotiating the picturesque Lacets de Montvernier at 13 kilometres from the finish. This winding Alpine road features 18 hairpin bends during its short 3.5 kilometre length and in a group behind Bardet, some hope may have been offered for Quintana with a small gap appearing between himself and Froome at the summit. The gap was not significant and was quickly closed soon thereafter, but with two difficult days in the Alps looming, the Colombian may have noted that apparent weakness in the race leader.
During the next two days, enormous crowds are expected to witness the uphill finales at La Toussuire and particularly at L’Alpe d’Huez on Saturday. For Quintana to overhaul Froome and claim the yellow jersey, he will need to produce several sustained attacks and create a lengthy time gap to the Team Sky rider. It is a task in which he has yet to succeed in the current Tour de France.
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