Fridays time trial from Marseilles Stade Vlodrome could prove crucial but two huge mountain stages before then may be pivotal for Chris Froome and co
Froome to watch, the remainder to assault
The gaps in the Tour are small but nothing has yet been assured on the scale of the four monster climbings that await on Wednesday and Thursday, all over 2,000 m in altitude and, in the case of the Croix de Fer and Galibier, of a duration we havent seen in the race so far. Chris Froome and his squad have only to watch the remainder, while grabbing what time they can close to the finish, because on paper the Briton is the strongest time triallist so can bank on gaining day on Saturday in Marseille. Thus, it falls to Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru, and Rigoberto Urn the strongest climbers in the race in so far to attack; Dan Martin and Simon Yates have not seemed quite at the level of the top four to date when the hammer goes down. Froome has the strongest team in the race, and he should have Mikel Landa to cover moves, so he is in the box seat. However
The unexpected and Landa lurking in the wings
Froome has had a remarkable number of minor episodes so far minor exits from the road on Sunday and at Peyragudes, mechanicals at Chambry and on Sunday, and his breakdown at Peyragudes. Something unexpected could devote his competitors an opening as long as they are willing and able to take the initiative. The other unknown concerns Landa, lying sixth overall and seeming disturbingly strong. If at some point on Wednesday or Thursday he gets into a potentially race-winning position most likely by marking a move by a rider outside Froomes immediate orbit as he did with Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador on Bastille Day that is when the race could get very interesting. The topic then is whether Sky rein him in or let him rend. And how Froome might react.
The maths say it all: 10 teams have won stages, with Quickstep the biggest wins thanks to Marcel Kittel. Realistically, there are two stages that might fall to a breakaway without expert climbers Tuesdays stage into Romans-sur-Isre and Fridays to Salon de Provence although neither is nailed on. On those two stages there will be intense competition to get into the winning move, so the opportunities are the recent trend for large groups of escapees up front will be repeated. Movistar, BMC, Dimension Data, Lotto-Soudal, Bahrain-Merida, UAE and Lotto-Jumbo all have yet to win even if Lotto-Jumbo will hope that Primoz Roglic might deliver in Marseille. Even Lotto-Soudal know that with Kittel on his current form their sprinter Andr Greipel cant bank on winning, so they will probably be in the infringes as well.
The green jersey and polka-dot battles
In the fight to be best climber, Warren Wawa Barguil has a stranglehold, and knows that he has only to score highly in one of the two remaining major mountain stages Wednesday and Thursday to secure the polka-dot jersey. The intriguing battle is for green, where his team-mate Michael Matthews is challenging Kittel by exploiting his relative climbing strength to go for intermediate sprints and if possible the stage win on hillier stages. Tuesday appears propitious, with a hilly start, and here Matthews will look to get in a transgres, if possible with team-mates around him. Wednesday has a handy second cat climb immediately before the sprint. Thursday is less promising but Friday has enough climbings early on for Kittel to be under pressure again if Sunweb still have the leg. The German is favourite, because he has a good leading and the points system favours stage wins, but Matthews has good reason not to give up.
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