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David L. Stanley
2015 Tour de France: July 22
Stage 17 reviewed and assessed

Back to Commentary index page | 2015 Tour de France

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

David L Stanley

David L Stanley

Olympics 50 Craziest Stories

Les Woodland's book Cycling Heroes: The Golden Years is available in the print, Kindle eBook & audiobook versions. To get your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

STAGE 17, Wednesday, 22 July: Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, -100 MI/161 km

In which the great sort-out begins…

Today’s stage sets out from the town in which Victor Hugo opened his novel, Les Miserables. It is in Digne that gentle words from the local bishop, Mons Myriel, inspire Jean Valjean to turn his life around. It could be that here in Digne, the men who would be king of the Tour 2015, might also take inspiration.

We end in Pra-Loup, a ski resort in the haut-Alpes of Provence. Race organizers chose to revisit Pra-Loup to honor the 1975 victory of Bernard Thevenet over five time vainqueur Eddy Merckx. Thevenet’s victory was not without drama. On the 14th stage to Puy-de-Dome, an angry French fan punched Merckx in the stomach and knocked him from his bike. Two days later, on stage 15, Merckx bonked on the climb to Pra-Loup. Bernard Thevenet dropped him, and took the stage by two minutes. Bernard would win the Tour by 2:47.

This year, as the stage ends, the peloton faces a 14 km climb at 6% up the 1st category Col d’Allos which reaches 7,400 feet above sea level. They have a highly technical descent, and a 6.2 km climb at 7% into the Pra-Loup ski station.

Stage 17 profile

Stage 17 profile

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the noteworthy non-starters for Week III.

Greg van Avermaet (BMC) –New baby!

Fabian Cancellara (Trek)

Pete Kennaugh (SKY)

Luca Paolini (Katusha)

Ivan Basso (Tinkoff) – Testicular cancer

Tony Martin (Etixx)

Alex Dowsett (Movistar)

Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge)

Rein Taaramae (Astana)

Daryl Impey (OGE)

Lars Boom (Astana)

Simon Gerrans (OGE)

Alberto Rui Costa (Lampre)

Jack Bauer (Cannondale-Garmin)

Which GC teams are most concerned? BMC will survive without Greg van Avermaet. He’s a fine rider, but not a climber. For SKY, in 2014, Pete Kennaugh rode strongly at the Vuelta in support of Froome’s 2nd place. For Astana, Taaramae is a solid climber, whilst Boom is a classics specialist. At Movistar, Alex Dowsett may be renowned for his TT skills, but he is also a capable climber. As for Orica-GreenEdge, if it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.              

Let’s cut to the chase.

62 MI/100 km to go: Tejay van Garderen is sick. He’s barely able to turn over his pedals. He’s 2:09 back of the yellow jersey group and fading. He began to suffer from the first climb. He looks like he has a fever.

A group of 30 is off the front which includes Sagan. The main field is 1:20 behind, led by SKY, and contains all the GC contenders save TVG.

54 MI/88 km to go: Tejay’s group has grown to 20 riders as they crest the 3rd category Col de Toutes Aures. The big breakaway is 2:10 from the main field. The Group Tejay is 2:20 behind the main field.

50 MI/80 km to go: In the break: The breakaway is on the Col de la Colle-St.-Michelle.

In the field: The peloton stopped for a lengthy pee break followed by a roll through the feed-zone. TVG’s group kept riding steadily, and they’ve caught back up with the main field. Thank goodness. That’s great for TVG but when the climbing heats up again, I’ll be very surprised if TVG doesn’t get dropped again. He’s sick.

45 MI/72 km to go: In the field: Mick Rogers (Tinkoff) hits it hard on the Colle-St.-Michelle and Contador is on his wheel. Cheeky attack, that’s for sure. Alberto is launched, Mick sits up, and he’s riding off. Movistar goes to the front, and AC will be caught, but he’s served notice he’s willing to go whenever the moment presents. AC does have a teammate in the break which is now 3:00 up the road. Valverde (Movistar) has bridged up to AC.

Here comes Team SKY. Quintana and Nibali are there. Odd tactic that Movistar reacts. They need to make SKY do all the work. The yellow jersey group is now 16 strong. The main field has picked up their tempo in response to the Rogers/Contador move. Smart move. If TVG goes poorly today, Alberto could easily move into his third place.

Crap. TVG is out the back again. Alone. His head is down. He’s pedaling squares.

Oh no.

The team car is beside him.

Tejay has stopped.

His manager is holding him up.

Off the bike. He’s in tears.

They are walking him back to the car. He’s done. Crap.

40 MI/64 km to go: In the break: The break of 28 is still away.

In the field: A group of 5 has left the main field in search of the breakaway with 2:22 to go, and the main field, led by SKY, is 3:05 behind the break. SKY will keep everything in order until the Col d’Allos. On that descent, fast and bumpy and frost-heaved and patched, it won’t be possible to keep order.

25 MI/40 km to go: The Col d’Allos, due to the rockslides that closed the Galibier, is the highest point in this year’s race at 7,381 feet above sea level

In the break: The breakaway is on the base of the climb. The day’s leader, at the moment, is Simon Geschke (Giant), thanks to a gutsy attack several km ago. Further back, at 1:35 behind is the Sagan/Talansky breakaway group, still around 25 strong.

In the field: The main field, no surprise, is led by a comfortable looking bunch of SKYs. They are 7:00 in arrears. No worries.

Simon Geschke

Simon Geschke on his way...

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20 MI/32 km to go: Late afternoon thunderstorms have been called for in Pra-Loup. They’ve been hitting every day around 4:00 pm for the last few days.

In the break: The heavily bearded Simon Geschke labors on the climb. He’s 9:40 ahead of the Group Froome. Erstwhile polka dot jersey holder Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) has flown the coop in chase of Geschke.
This just in: World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx) has retired from the race.
And Teklehaimanot is back.

16 MI/25 km to go: Everyone, in the break and the GC group, is on the climb.

In the break: Mathias Frank is in the break. Frank is a solid climber. He’s not that far down on GC. If he can finish with a good gap, he could move into the top six on GC with three more days left in the Alps.

In the field: Strange tactic: Trek Factory is riding at the front to protect Bauke Mollema in tenth place. That gives the SKY guys a rest. Why would you do that?

14 MI/22 km to go: In the break: The break is shattered. Richie Porte was in the break, and he has sat up to wait for Froome to come up from behind as the SKYs are down to two riders.
Geschke crests the climb. Frank and Talansky are near. Thibaut Pinot is between groups, trying to bridge, and the French are going ballistic.

In the field: Astana leads. Nibali is a terrific descender and that will be a good thing when his group heads downhill.

Andrew Talansky

Andrew Talansky

12 MI/18 km to go: In the break: Geschke is on the way down. This is bumpy tarmac. Simon is hanging it out like he’s in Moto-GP. Whew, that’s some risky bike-handling, flinging himself and the bike back and forth across the corners. Pinot is 57 sec behind and he’s a sissy descender, by his own admission. He’s already lost ten seconds in the first two km of the descent.

In the field: A highly select group, led by Astana, is down to 8 men. Porte is still up the road, rolling at his tempo, in wait for Froome and Geraint Thomas. The GC group, still on the climb, nears the high point of this year’s Tour.

10 MI/16 km to go: In the break: Pinot hits the deck. His back wheel skidded out on a section of sticky tarmac. Not his fault, but a crash at 50 kph is never good. Simon G, meanwhile, is sprinting out of every corner. Pinot, to his credit, is up quickly and back on his bike straightaway.

In the field: Nibali jumps hard and takes Froome, Nairo, AC, and Valverde with him. Geraint Thomas is gone. Dang, Nibali’s going hard.
From the rear, Quintana GOES!!! Froome drags the group back up. The group has caught Richie Porte. Froome needs him.

8 MI/12 km to go: In the break: Talansky has caught Thibaut Pinot, and howls past him on the descent. Geschke is works the descent with 1:30 in hand. Peter Sagan has sat up in the break. He must be waiting for the GC group in case he can help Contador on the final climb up to Pra-Loup. Solid teamwork from @petosagan.

In the field: The group is over the top. Nibali immediately gets 30 meters. Richie Porte tries to keep him in sight. Nibali is 7:00 behind Froome. If he can take two minutes each day in the Alps before Alpe-d’Huez, he’s a threat. But that’s not going to happen. Whatever he can take on this descent, he’ll give back on the way up to Pra-Loup. Froome and Nairo are the climbing class of this year’s Tour.

4 MI/6 km to go: In the break: Geschke is on the final climb, two minutes ahead of the Talansky group.

In the field: Valverde goes hard on the descent, gets a gap, and Froome chases hard. Nairo sits on the back of the group. He’s all about the attack on the way up to Pra-Loup.

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3 MI/5 km to go: In the break: Talansky is alone, in chase of Geschke. The Pitbull is a great climber but to make up 5 km in 1:25 is a big ask.

In the field: Contador has had a crash! His back wheel skipped out on a tarmac heave. He has a bike issue. He’s chasing at 1:30 behind.

1.8 MI/3 km to go: In the break: AT is 50 seconds behind. AT! AT! AT!

In the field: This is the crème de la crème:Froome, Nairo, Valverde, Nibbles. Valverde drags the group at high speed up the climb. Nairo waits for the perfect moment to go.

1.2 MI/2 km to go: In the break: AT looks strong. He can see the motos ahead behind Simon Geschke, but I don’t think Pitbull can close the gap. Somehow, Uran has ridden into third – nice. Geschke is dying but he’s too tough to get caught.

In the field: The two Movistars in the break have come back to the Froome group. Total of four Movistar men – three of them will bury themselves to open a big gap over Contador. Nairo will attack again.

RED KITE TIME: In the break: All the way uphill to the finish. No freewheeling over the finish line. It’s all Simon.

500 meters to go: His legs locked, you could see them tie up, but Simon will win. His legs will unlock by the time he needs to stand on the podium.

200 meters to go: You can see a broad smile under his beard. BTW-That’s the fifth stage win by a German this Tour.

Simon Geschke

Simon Geschke wins stage 17

Here comes Talansky. Yes, AT in second by thirty seconds. This was a courageous show of strength with an all-day ride by the Cannondale-Garmin man.

All of the teams have stationed their soigneurs as rider catchers just over the finish line. Today, the riders are barely in motion and are 100% anaerobic by the time they hit the line.

The catchers are busy.

1.2 MI/3 km to go: In the field: Nairo gets a gap. 20 meters.

Froome digs in.

Nairo dances away again. Froome digs in his heels, and they’re together. Here comes Valverde.

Froome swings wide and swoops onto Valverde’s wheel, with Nairo behind.

Astana leads with Tanel Kangert, who came back from the break, and Nibali.

RED KITE TIME: Quintana drops back, like a track sprinter, and makes a huge run from the back. Froome has him. Froome answers with his own attack. Nairo glues up. They’re away.

Nairo content to sit second wheel.

No! Nairo attacks again and he’s first over the line. He may have grabbed two seconds with that little gap.

Nibali loses a couple of seconds. “Catch me!” he waves to his handler and falls over into his soigneur’s arms. Done.

Contador is way back there. Geraint Thomas may leapfrog Contador in the GC.

Here comes Richie Porte. Contador is behind Porte? Not possible.

Where is Contador? What happened to the help from Sagan?

AC has buried himself, but he’s 2:12 behind Froome and Quintana   

Simon Geschke has broken down in tears during his post-race press conference.

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On Tejay van Garderen: An athlete’s life is brutal and short. Mortals measure lives in years and decades. In the world of professional racing, an athlete’s life is measured in weeks and months. Ask a professional bike racer in 2015 what happened during the third stage of the Dauphine Libere of 2013 and he can tell you. What was the mood at the team breakfast, how did the stage unfold, how did he feel on the second climb of the day, who were his breakaway companions? He can tell you.

Ask him how many kilometers he rode at his anaerobic threshold during his climbing intervals in the week’s lead-up to the Fleche Wallone Classic in 2012, and he can tell you. He can tell you if it was rainy, or windy, or a rare sunny day in the north of Belgium on that 2012 race day. Those details are burned into his brain.

These skeletal physiques these men possess? These men of pared-down muscles, bones, and lungs? These human anatomy charts arise not be exercise, but by denial. You don’t have a piece of cake. You don’t eat a bite of cake. You eat exactly what is dictated by the team dietician, and no more. Away from the team, a scale becomes your mealtime’s constant companion. 200 grams of pasta means 200 gms, not 205.

Your scheduled training calls for 150 kilometers. That includes six dashes up a ten kilometer climb with an average gradient of 8%. Your heart rate should be at 92% of its maximum. 178 beats every minute. Three heartbeats every second. You reach the top of the climb. Your eyes see nothing but black dots. Your lungs cannot draw a deep enough breath to relax the oxygen-starved panic with which your brain wrestles. You remind yourself that this is good, that training should hurt, this is what you have chosen, this makes you worthy. And you turn back down the mountainside, with the knowledge that you will do this five more times this morning.

You are a Formula One race car. An F1 car that lives and breathes; sleeps, eats, and trains. You are the engine and that engine must be tuned.

A Tour rider may seize the chance to race the Tour six or eight times in a career. Six Tours de France means 126 stages-126 stages that might yield one chance for individual glory. The other 125 stages, you will be called upon to ride at your limit, for 21 days, 5 hours per day, for the glory of the team leader.

You might, if you are extraordinarily gifted, ride for the yellow jersey. Upon three of your Tour journeys, you might have the form that could place you upon the podium. You feel the weight of your eight teammates’ sacrifices upon your bony shoulders. Eight teammates multiplied by 140 pounds per man equals 1120 pounds, yet somehow, as you feel your Tour slipping away, that 112 pounds feels like 10,000 pounds.

That is why Tejay van Garderen wept as he limped, ill and shaking, in the arms of his coaches, towards the BMC team car.

The finish order:

  1. Simon Geschke (Giant) 4:12:17
  2. Talansky (C’dale-Garmin) @ 0:32
  3. Uran Uran (Etixx) @ 1:01
  4. Not Merlot, but Pinot (FDJ) @ 1:36
  5. Mathias Frank (IAM) @ 1:40

The GC:

  1. Chris Froome 69:06:49
  2. Nairo @ 03:10
  3. Valverde @ 04:09
  4. Sir Geraint @ 06:34
  5. Contador @ 06:40
  6. Gesink @ 07:39
  7. Nibali @ 08:04
  8. Mathias Frank @ 08:47

What Did We Learn Today?

1) Mathias Frank and IAM’s director get today’s gold star for tactics. Frank started the day 14:23 behind race leader Froome. Every team realized that a big break would be allowed to get a gap. Frank made sure to get in the group; he stayed near the front, and rode away on the final climb to Pra-Loup.

2) The peloton is necessarily heartless. When TVG went south on the first climb, all the Movistars in the group went to the front and dropped the hammer.

3) Tears are a part of cycling. There are tears from Tejay as he shuffled, led by his coaches, to the team car on the climb. There are tears from Simon Geschke as he realizes what a Tour de France stage win meant on this day, the greatest day of Simon Geschke’s career.

Random Race Fact: Simon’s father, Jurgen, was a three time world champion on the track. Today’s stage covered the 160 km in 4 and ¼ hours for an average speed of 23 mph. Even when you consider the speed of the descents, that is fast.

Join in the conversation. What, if anything, can Nairo Quintana and Movistar do to take back time from Chris Froome? Have Valverde attack early, and stress the SKYs? Or perhaps, this Tour is now Froome’s to lose, rather than Nairo’s to win?

And please, no wagering.

Hit up the McGann Facebook page to make your case, and give McGann a LIKE.

On the Twitter, you can follow BikeRaceInfo here.

Stanley’s Twitter is here.  I tweet early, and often.

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