Alejandro Valverde falls off the podium

He’s been tottering around these last few days, but on stage 18, Alejandro Valverde finally slipped. Now he’s lying in the dirt, clawing at the air and screeching the word ‘podium’ like Gollum.

There was an unseemly rush to take his place. The French have been like queuing primary school children, all pressed up against each other impatiently. Thibaut Pinot has taken second, while a weary-looking Jean-Christophe Péraud – who conducted his post-race interview with arse on tarmac and with people helping him drink – is now third.

Will it stay like that?

Almost certainly not. The final general classification action will take place on Saturday in a 54km time trial where big time gaps are expected. Being as just 15 seconds separate Pinot in second and Valverde in fourth, it all pretty much comes down to that. Pinot is the weakest against the clock. Valverde is probably the best, but a lot depends on how he emerges from this Pyrenean dust-up.

Why they’re racing for second

Vincenzo Nibali pointed out that he was the strongest rider in the race again, just in case anyone had grown so used to him wearing yellow that they’d forgotten what it meant. When he needlessly followed a Chris Horner attack (Horner is almost 40 minutes down on the general classification) none of the other contenders even bothered trying to follow. I’m calling them ‘contenders’ for want of a better word, because they’re no longer trying to win this year’s Tour. Nibali is now a complete irrelevance to them.

Other resolutions

Barring accidents, two competitions were mathematically resolved on stage 18. No-one but Peter Sagan can win the green jersey, while Rafal Majka has secured the king of the mountains competition.

The latter was oddly hotly contested this year. Normally the preserve of no-mark breakaway riders, this year we had a rider who would normally contend for the overall (Joaquim Rodriguez) competing with a rider who was leading the overall (Vincenzo Nibali) and someone who will surely do so from now on (Majka).

It took a third-place finish for Majka to pip Nibali by 13 points, the final climb bringing him 32. Even seventh place would have only given him 16, which obviously wouldn’t have been enough. Rodriguez didn’t trouble the scorers and finishes 69 points down.

Laurens Ten Dam watch

Still eighth. His sole motivation for getting all spit-bearded in the time trial will be trying to beat his team-mate, Bauke Mollema, who is 19 seconds ahead of him. Those further up the leaderboard are pretty much out of reach.

Invisible rider watch

Jurgen Van Den Broeck’s the one I always make fun of, but before the Tour began, I was also including Haimar Zubeldia when I said: “This pair will be in the top ten, but you won’t know how.”

Zubeldia is now in tenth place. Did you spot him?

Stage 19

Pretty much flat, although there is a bit of a kick about 15km from the line which could spice things up. Here’s the profile.


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