Christophe Riblon triumphs on Alpe Twoez

There were two races on Alpe d’Huez (scaled twice – Alpe Twoez?). I’m therefore going to separate this update into the stage and the general classification, because each half was complicated enough in its own right without having to link the two together.

The stage

Quite a few riders broke from the pack, but the stage basically boiled down to a battle between Christophe Riblon, Moreno Moser and Tejan Van Garderen, with all three bouncing around, falling back, regaining ground and generally keeping us guessing. Jens Voight also spent quite some time somewhere behind them in a forgotten netherland the cameras never saw. I mention this only because everybody loves Jens Voight.

Moreno Moser kept disappearing from view when the rode was steep, only to slowly ride his way back again when the incline was shallower. However, on the second climb up Alpe d’Huez, he couldn’t fully recover and eventually finished third.

Tejay Van Garderen had some sort of mechanical that stopped him pedalling on the apparently scary descent before that final climb and was left for dead by the other pair. He caught up, went past them both, but then tragically ran out of energy with just 2km to go, finishing second.

Christophe Riblon went for a quick jaunt in the woods on the descent and was dropped on the final climb, but on stages like this, you don’t give up. Seeing that he was gaining on Van Garderen in the closing kilometres, he found motivation which was then buffeted by Gallic yearning to deliver the first French win of this year’s Tour.

Yellow

Jesus. This was a mess. I’ll try and give you a feel for what was going on first and I’ll then try and pick the bones out of it all afterwards. Basically, riders were strewn all over the road and appeared to be disappearing and materialising at random.

The two Dutchmen, Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam, disappeared early on the final climb and never reappeared. This was as straightforward as things got.

Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger attacked on the scary descent, but were hauled in before the final climb, whereupon Kreuziger all but evaporated.

Contador pressed on with the yellow jersey group for a bit until Chris Froome started looking really tired. What happened next? Froome attacked, dropping Contador and also Richie Porte. Obviously.

That left us with a super-elite group comprising Froome, Joaquim Rodriguez and Nairo Quintana who pressed on, clearly leaving everyone for dead. But wait, who’s this? It’s Richie Porte. Where did he come from? At almost exactly the same moment, Roman Kreuziger rejoined Alberto Contador and started driving the pace for him.

As the finish line approached, Froome looked shagged-out and Rodriguez and Quintana departed, subsequently spending some time failing to lose each other. Porte stayed with Froome to illegally feed and water him (20 second penalty for both riders) and then paced him to the finish. Behind, Jakob Fuglsang had materialised at the front of Alberto Contador’s group, presumably having teleported from somewhere down near Laurens Ten Dam. Then, at the finish, it transpired that Alejandro Valverde had at some point got himself between the Contador group and Froome. No idea how or when that happened.

And now some sense

I’d lump the general classification riders into one of three groups, based on the last couple of days.

  • Fading: Mollema and Ten Dam
  • Strong for the final week: Quintana and Rodriguez
  • Everyone else

Despite basically imploding and also getting a time penalty, Froome actually managed to extend his lead. Here are the standings:

  1. Christopher Froome 71h02m19s
  2. Alberto Contador +5m11s
  3. Nairo Quintana +5m32s
  4. Roman Kreuziger +5m44s
  5. Joaquim Rodriguez +5m58s

Is the race still alive?

I dunno. Judge for yourself. We’ve two fierce mountain stages to come and Quintana and Rodriguez gained a minute on Froome today. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that there could be a heist if he’s fading and they’re not.

Stage 19

More climbing than any other stage this year and with two hors catégorie climbs (amusingly, that means they are categorised as ‘beyond categorisation’), this will be a test for increasingly fatigued legs. Here’s the profile.