Frenchman Warren Barguil (Sunweb) attacked the final selection of GC favorites on the steep slopes of the Col d’Izoard, and then overcame the remnants of the day’s breakaway, to claim Stage 18 resplendent in the polka-dot jersey of King of the Mountains.
Stage 18 marks Barguil’s second win of the 2017 Tour after his Stage 13 victory in Foix. Save any catastrophes over the next two days, Barguil will also wear the King of the Mountains jersey in Paris, alongside teammate Michael Matthews, who has sewn up the green points jersey.
“This is really fantastic, I can’t believe it,” said Barguil. “It’s really a dream to take another win. I wanted to take some extra time in the GC so I just rode my own climb and paced myself to the top. I managed to close to the leader and then when I still had the legs left, I continued to the line. It’s brilliant for us to have four stage victories now, it’s unbelievable.”
Stage 18 would be the final battle in the mountains, culminating on the Col d’Izoard, the last chance for GC men to challenge yellow jersey Chris Froome before Saturday’s individual time trial in Marseilles.
Eagerness would prevail as the first group to distance itself from the field was composed of 54 riders. Their gap would grow quickly as Team Sky, in control of the peloton, lacked concern and let the move roll.
The large selection out front would reset itself multiple times prior to the first major climb of the day, the Col de Vars. The 54 men would split into two groups on the Col de Vars, and near the top, Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) would create distance, forming a true breakaway over the top of the first climb.
Nicolas Edet and Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Tsgabu Grmay (Bahrain-Merida), and Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Oscaro) rejoined the four riders from the original selection to create a front group of eight riders with 28km to go.
Three kilometers later, Rudy Molard (FDJ) and Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) joined the eight, creating a front group of ten 5:45 ahead of the peloton on the lower slopes of the Col d’Izoard. The rest of the original 54 rider selection was scattered amongst multiple groups between the leading ten and the main field, most swept up by the peloton with the increased pace at the bottom of the Col d’Izoard.
As the gradient on the Izoard increased, Lutsenko decided to make a solo attempt at the climb. He accelerated, distancing the breakaway with 14 kilometers of demanding climbing left on the stage. Four kilometers later, Atapuma became discontent with the presence of his companions and attempted to chase Lutsenko solo. He quickly began making up time on the Kazakh rider and made the catch at six kilometers from the line. Riding with inspiration on Colombia’s Independence Day, Atapuma quickly overcame Lutsenko and continued solo. He had under six kilometers to hold his margin.
Behind, Ag2r La Mondiale took control from Sky into the bottom of the Col d’Izoard, setting tempo for team leader Romain Bardet.
Before the significant gradients, the pace set by Ag2r would detach a significant amount of riders from the main peloton.
Team Sky would assume the pacesetting yet again, with Michal Kwiatkowski leading the group until midway up the Izoard. Kwiatkowski gave everything he had on the front of the GC group and would pull off the front and stop, even unclipping and putting a foot down aside the road, completely overcome by the effort.
Atapuma would have savored victory if not for Barguil, clad in the polka-dot jersey, attacking from the main group behind. The Frenchman would have his work cut out from him, over two minutes behind the Colombian with six kilometers of climbing remaining.
With three kilometers to the summit, Barguil had Atapuma within view, only 30 seconds back. Barguil caught and passed the UAE rider to stay clear for the stage win, while a minute back attacks flew from the GC group.
Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Bardet, and Mikel Landa (Team Sky) all attacked from the group of favorites, with Landa opening daylight before Froome attempted to bridge up to his teammate and contend for the stage win.
The attacks distanced several riders, including Italian Fabio Aru (Astana), who started the day fourth overall but would lose 1:02 to Froome and Bardet and drop to fifth, 1:55 behind Froome.
Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) chased Froome down with Bardet on his wheel, and the four riders — Landa, Froome, Uran, and Bardet — converged at 1km to go. Atapuma held on for second, with Bardet taking the remaining four seconds of time bonus available. Froome and Bardet crossed the line 20 seconds behind Barguil but two seconds ahead of Uran, meaning that Bardet took a total of six seconds on the Colombian.
“It’s hard to realize,” Barguil said after his win. “I attacked because I wanted to gain one spot on CG by passing Alberto Contador. I kept going when I dropped him off but I wasn’t sure how many riders were still at the front. When I caught Tony Gallopin I thought he was the last one, then I found out that Atapuma was ahead. It came back to my mind that I didn’t manage to beat him at the Tour de Suisse last year, so I wanted to take my revenge. To win here is exceptional.”
Bardet, who looked to be in serious physical distress across the line, conceded that he may not win this Tour de France, but that he had “nothing to regret.”
“I gave it my all. I thought I was going to choke on the line,” he said. “I made it on mental strength. I knew the ascent well, I knew that beyond 2,000 metres, with all my efforts, it was going to hurt. It would have been ideal to make it back on Warren. But it was a super victory for him, amply deserved… I played it cute, I tried to make believe I was not super. I made my move shortly before the descent. I risked everything. I have nothing to regret. Now we have the time trial, but the Tour is already a success. We confirmed what we did last year, we went a step further.”
Froome, who has not yet won a stage at this Tour — or a race this year — said he’d hoped to fight for the stage win but could be content with his GC position, 23 seconds ahead of Bardet and 29 seconds ahead of Uran.
“Of course it would have been nice to take a little bit of time today,” Froome said. “I got a few seconds over Uran, who I think will be my main rival in the time trial. The team was fantastic, it was great to have numbers, and to be able to control things. We had that card to play with Mikel Landa, and then I tried to give it a dig. I thought I had a gap, but I guess Uran brought it back.
“It’s still all to race for in the time trial in Marseille,” Froome said. “If everything goes well, I fancy my chances in the time trial against my rivals, but anything could happen still. It’s still very close.”
This article was originally published on cyclingtips.com
Photography by Cor Vos