BORA-hansgrohe show fighting spirit on short but spectacular Tour de France stage 17.
Stage 17 saw a first for the Tour de France – a Formula 1 style start led riders into a short road stage with barely a kilometre of flat terrain. The whole day it was either up or down, and the climbers relished the opportunity to take centre stage on what was a very different day in the mountains. Supported by Gregor Mühlberger, Rafał Majka jumped in the break and both riders impressed with their strength, with Rafał riding off the front with the eventual stage winner. In spite of his best efforts, the Polish rider was just off the pace on the final climb, taking eleventh on the stage. Having suffered after a crash earlier in the day, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was surrounded by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates, who paced him up the day’s final climb and ensured he crossed the finish line on time. After the podium ceremony, the Maillot Vert would visit the hospital for further check-ups.
UPDATE Peter Sagan: After further examinations, no fractures have been reported. Peter suffers from heavy abrasions and some bruises on his right side. A final decision about taking on stage 18 tomorrow will be taken from the team tomorrow morning.
The shortest road stage the Tour de France had hosted in many years was bound to be easy, surely? At 65km in length, the day would be over in less than two and a half hours, but this stage was something special. Riders would start in a grid formation similar to a Formula 1 race, with the Maillot Jaune in Pole Position and the rest of the peloton lined up by their position in the GC. After the start, it was straight into a climb – the first category Montée de Peyragudes, which at 14.9km and an average gradient of 6.7%, was going to put riders into the red straight away. After a short descent, it was straight back into the climbs, this time on the first category Col de Val Louron-Azet, which was half as long as the Peyragudes, but much steeper, with slopes of up to 10.2%. With high speeds from the start, there would be nowhere to hide on these tough climbs, but if the parcours wasn’t hard enough already, the stage would end on a summit finish – and not just any summit finish. The Hors Catégorie Col du Portet was the Tour de France’s Souvenir Henri Desgrange – the prize for the rider who reaches the highest point of the race first. Whoever took the prize would also take the stage win. Reaching the top of this climb, with its altitude of 2,215m and its average gradient of 8.7% was a different matter though. For many different reasons, this would be a day to remember.
The Team Tactics
The stage being so different from any other in the Tour de France would make today difficult to plan for. However, from the start the team would aim to get both Rafał Majka and Gregor Mühlberger in the break so that they could take any chances that came their way. On such a short stage, any advantage over the peloton could prove pivotal, so being in the escape meant the riders would be able to react in the closing stages of the day. For Peter Sagan, the aim would be simply to get through the day. While the stage was short, the climbers would be going full speed from the start and there was the potential to be caught out by the cut-off time, making it essential to stay in contact – especially on the shifting gradients of the final HC climb.
There was no flag to drop today – the start of the race came when the grid lights went from red to green – but when the race started, it was a no holds barred sprint to get ahead. Three distinct groups formed in front of the peloton, and Rafał Majka jumped into the third group – the most sizeable at this point of the race – with Gregor Mühlberger bridging across to join Rafał shortly after. Having two riders in the bigger, third group meant strength in numbers when the race neared its conclusion. Looking strong and confident, both Rafał and Gregor were supporting each other as the duo hit the lower slopes of the Col du Portet. It would be hard to find a rhythm on this climb, with its ever-changing gradient – and when the “easiest” section of the climb is 5%, it was always going to be painful here. Latching onto the wheel of a late attack from Nairo Quintana, Rafał gained fast on the solo rider on the front until it was just two out on front, but the mist closed in as the altitude increased, and having ridden hard in the break, the Polish rider didn’t have the energy to follow. The finale loomed large on the horizon and the GC race exploded as riders battled for extra time. Having pushed hard and gone for glory earlier, Rafał finished just outside the top ten in eleventh. Having shown his legs were good on the first climbs, a crash on the descent of the Col de Val Louron-Azet slowed the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan. His BORA-hansgrohe teammates rallied around the Maillot Vert to keep him safe and pace him on the final climb. Having suffered on the Col du Portet, Peter would go to the hospital for further check-ups.
01 N. Quintana 2:21:27
02 D. Martin +0:28
03 G. Thomas +0:47
11 R. Majka +2:20
From the Finish Line
"It was a hard fight, right from the start. I went in the break and it was a day of endless suffering on the limit. Gregor did an amazing job, he pulled a lot and showed once again his great talent but there was no cooperation in our group, with Valverde also waiting for Quintana. As a result, our gap was not big enough for the last climb. I gave it my all when Quintana closed on us and I was the last guy from the break to stay on his wheel, but with 6km to go my batteries were empty and Quintana dropped me. I really wanted that win today, but I will try again the day after tomorrow." – Rafał Majka
"It was the hard battle we expected. Attacks were flying from the beginning and today we had Gregor and Rafał in the group. Gregor did an impressive race today, he worked a lot and was really strong. In the finale, Rafał started the last climb around a minute ahead of the yellow jersey group. When Quintana caught him, he was the only one who could follow, but on the last kilometres it was all about the legs and Quintana was stronger today. Still, Rafa showed a strong ride as well and there is one more chance for him. Unfortunately, Peter crashed in the second downhill. He was able to finish the race but will now undergo further check-ups" – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director