That certainly was an exciting stage yesterday, the shorter ones are often the most dynamic and entertaining. The race to la Planche de Belles Filles did not disappoint.
So much happened in one, relatively short climb, giving us a much clearer view of the Tour. Let’s start with the winner: Fabio Aru is Sardinian, one of the rare racing cyclists from that island. He’s 27 but by age 25 he’d won the Young Rider Classification at the Giro – along with three stages – and went on to win the Vuelta that same year.
Aru has come back from injury at the Giro, and his famously monk-like dedication has born fruits with an Italian Championship and now the first important stage of the Tour. His rivals must clearly be nervous as Aru’s climb to the top is the fastest ascension of the la Planche de Belles Filles in history, taking something like 20 seconds out of Chris Froome’s record…think about that for a moment. And Aru’s style, pedaling so beautifully and at high tempo even under full effort and pressure is a real sign of racing class. Behind him is Team Astana, an expert collection of racing pirates if there ever was one.
What was Richie Porte doing throwing his team on the front like that for hours on end? No matter how powerful his team may be, that seemed like a real waste of their energy, especially since he couldn’t finish off the job. You can only ask that kind of effort every so often from your team – they need to get to Paris too.
Contador, lost then made up time. He’s counting on his current diesel motor style to see him through this race, on the accumulated exhaustion to blunt the edge of the now faster and more explosive climbers. He’s grinding his way through this Tour.
Speaking of fatigue, Quintana seems exhausted to me – he’s already speaking wishfully of the first rest day on Monday. Doing the Giro-Tour double is just too much in modern cycling.
Dan Martin – hooray! He came though and is a podium contender – such an Irish fighter.
As expected the Sky boys were incredible, Kwiatkowski was so powerful on that final climb, and of course Froome turned on the turbocharger at the end – but was unable to break completely free – he certainly wasn’t making time up on Aru. Now in Yellow, with a long road of defending ahead, Froome’s team is going to be put to the sword.
Another sprint day and fireworks are promised. Watch for an escalation of the Bouhanni-Démare battle – those boys chop and hook like nothing else.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.