The Final Mountains

by John Eustice

Rouleurs at the Tour

(Publisher’s note: John Eustice submitted this post at 6AM but due to some tech challenges it is just now being posted and it seems his predictions are happening.)

The final mountain stage of the Tour generally disappoints those looking for an explosive finale to the race, no matter how difficult the stage appears on paper. The riders are in a state of deep exhaustion, with this Tour in particular leaving its traces over the entire peloton, and the leaders of the special classifications and top five overall positions tend to ride defensively, especially with a time trial still to come. But, we may have some real fireworks today given the composition of the various players still in this game.

One thing has become clear in this Tour: the era of the pure climber is over with the pure sprinter facing extinction as well. I noted in a previous posting that the top riders on l‘Alpe d’Huez were all 6’ tall which is becoming the prototype for future Tour winners: A tall “rouleur” or time trial rider, who loses weight and becomes able to climb the mountains at such an elevated, steady pace that any attempts by climbers to break up a group with their traditional accelerations come to naught under the constant steamroller effects of the big men behind. Tom Dumoulin, with his absolutely beautiful style and position on the bicycle is the best example of the modern Tour contender.

The man who breaks, somewhat, this model is Primož Roglič who comes in at a mere 5’9”. The Slovenian weighs in at 143 lbs. – so there’s muscle on that frame – and he’s blessed with an outsized fighting spirit. Everyone in the Tour remains afraid of him, especially after his attacks on Wednesday that made him the first man in six years to have damaged Chris Froome. Roglič is the unknown today. He’s an excellent time trial rider having won them in the Tour de Romandie among others, but he won’t wait for tomorrow’s TT to try and make up the 16” that separates him from Froome and the podium. I believe that he’s still fresh – if you can call it that – with this being only the third Grand Tour that he’s ever ridden. Roglič is physically young as opposed to Froome, who’s ridden three Grand Tours in the past 10 months alone… Roglič will go for it today, he’s fast and deep and he’s going to throw it all down.

He’ll have allies in the Movistar boys, whose race ends today. The time trial is not their favorite discipline, they’re at home in the Pyrenees and full of morale after having completely controlled the race on Wednesday setting up Nairo Quintana for his great win. Quintana, who’ll dine out on that win for years as Spanish cycling culture still reveres the great climber – winning on top of the highest mountain of the Tour gives him an almost mythical status back home in Colombia – will be unleashed and race hard for the pleasure and to show himself to his public. Valverde’s ego won’t accept being outside of the top 10 on GC, they like the fact that they’re winning the Team Classification, so look to them to liven things up.

Romain Bardet, whose collapse on the Col du Portet has thrown the French press into a titter, needs to save his Tour and today is his last chance for glory. Was it in fact a hypoglycemic attack that caused his crisis as they are saying? Or has he starved himself down so hard that there are no reserves left within that X-ray of a body. One thing that this Tour has done is make me a great fan of Bardet’s teammate, current Young Rider leader Pierre Latour. His ride on Wednesday was so completely selfless – I was wrong about him in that morning’s post – that I was left stunned. He risked his White Jersey for the team and they own him the freedom to try something today.

How much do we all love Dan Martin? A pure athlete who lives in Andorra with his wife Jess – she ran the 10,000 Meters for Britain at the Rio Olympics – so as to be in the mountains, is on fire and after having come so close on the Portet will try again today. He’ll become the natural ally of Roglič and the Movistars.

Then the Geraint and Chris show. It all seems done; all Thomas has to do is “get through” the next two days. But, as I said the other day, and as we saw with Froome, they are all human having to pedal and suffer like anyone else. You don’t really know what’s going to happen and that’s why we watch.

John EusticeJohn 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.