Michael Rogers and the ferocious French fight for third

You wonder what Michael Rogers could do if he didn’t have to spend the vast majority of his time dicking about towing Alberto Contador around. Free to do as he pleased in the Giro, he won two stages – one after attacking on a descent and then atop the mightily-steep and oddly-named Zoncolan. His first ever Tour de France stage victory was reminiscent of both.

At 237km, this was the longest stage of the Tour. The racing really kicked off on the Port de Balès, which was 11.7km at 7.7%, but it then continued when they dropped down the other side to the finish. The breakaway group shrank as they climbed and then Rogers attacked near the bottom of the descent. Tommy Voeckler came second.

The other Frenchies

But this year it’s not all about Voeckler for the French. They had the third, fourth and fifth placed riders overall by the end of the day. Romain Bardet, who had been third, didn’t look good and has dropped to fifth, but the ludicrously-named Tejay Van Garderen had an even worse day, allowing Jean-Christophe Péraud to vault from sixth to fourth.

The fact you’ll always hear about Péraud is that he won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in cross-country mountain biking, but what’s even more interesting is that he didn’t become a professional road racer until he was 33. Now he’s a minute away from the podium in the Tour de France.

That third-place spot is currently occupied by Thibaut Pinot, the cyclist who’s scared of going downhill. In fairness, on today’s evidence, he appears to be over that rather large handicap. Meanwhile, going uphill, he looked very threatening indeed, making even Vincenzo Nibali look ever-so-slightly uncomfortable (you had to look very, very closely, but I’m pretty sure I saw something). You may remember Pinot from the stage he won in 2012 when Marc Madiot went jeffing mental.

With two proper hard days in the Pyrenees coming up, Pinot can consolidate his third position and perhaps even get past Alejandro Valverde. However, one thing Péraud has in his favour is that he’s a very good time trialist. You wouldn’t think it on the evidence of last year, when he crashed on the morning of the final time trial, breaking his collarbone, and then crashed again in the time trial itself. I defy you to watch that video without wincing, knowing that he’s about to land on an already broken bone.

Laurens Ten Dam Watch

My beardy friend lost time on Pinot, Nibali, Valverde and Péraud, but went past team-mate Bauke Mollema and is now eighth overall. He also finished ahead of  Bardet and Van Garderen. I reckon he might take them both in the coming days. Come on LTD!

Rui Costa’s gone home

The world champion’s got pneumonia. Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, Simon Gerrans, has also done one – he’s still smarting from that crash with Mark Cavendish on stage one. Gerrans’ team-mate Simon Yates has also pulled out, which means Geraint Thomas is last Brit standing, unless I’m forgetting someone.

Stage 17

Short, but yet they still cram in three first category climbs and a beyond categorisation category summit finish. Short doesn’t mean easy in bike racing. It means intense. I’m predicting a few instances of general classification freefall. Here’s the profile.