Warren Barguil rides brilliantly to conquer the Col d’Izoard
It’s been a commendable effort by all the riders to make it this far in the Tour de France. The focus for stage 18 was on the high-mountain finish of the Col d’Izoard, questioning whether or not the General Classification contenders had the stomach for a place on the podium. It was a stage that many considered to be the last chance to challenge the race leader, Chris Froome. At the start of the day, Froome’s advantage over Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran was a slender 27 seconds. After a gruelling day in the saddle, it would be Warren Barguil who would ride home for his second stage victory, a magnificent one at that.
A substantial group of 54 riders formed the initial breakaway. The peloton, controlled by the prominence of Team Sky kept the advantage to under three minutes, the gap gradually increased to almost 8 minutes.
With 73KM completed, the breakaway was briefly whittled down to just seven riders; Simon Clarke, and Ben Swift among them. The break had a lead of half a minute on the group of 47 in the counter attack.
As the intermediate sprint approached, riders jostled for position. Bahrain Merida’s Sonny Colbrelli claimed the maximum points and a boost of morale. The break was allowed to extend its advantage to over eight minutes. Further down the road, Froome rode at the front of a disciplined peloton, protected by his teammates. Bora-Hansgrohe had missed the breakaway and did a brief pull at the front of the peloton, giving Team Sky a little bit of ‘R and R’.
The penultimate climb of the 104th edition of the Tour de France, the category one Col de Vars began to take its toll on many of the riders. Nicolas Edet of Cofidis fancied his chances from the front of the group, he made a solo effort for the summit.
Luke Rowe and Christian Knees of Team Sky were dropped, that was an invite for AG2R to adopt the position at the front of the peloton. Alexey Lutsenko of Astana was the first rider to crest the Col de Var, earning 10 KoM points for his troubles. Further down the mountain, AG2R began to wind up the pace, the expected attacks were yet to materialise.
The train of Sky riders followed AG2R on the foot of the Col d’Izoard, the sting in the tail of stage 18. Time was running out, the team directors, media and fans alike waited for the GC slugfest to commence. Further up the road, Aru’s teammate, Lutsenko was spinning hard at the front of the race, accompanied by Edet. It wasn’t clear what Astana’s tactics were.
Cyril Gautier was the first of the AG2R riders to call it a day, he had done a sterling job up to that point, he left his leader 11.5KM short of the summit. Lutsenko looked like he was in pure agony at the front of the race, Darwin Atapuma span the legs in an effort to become the stage leader.
The first big attack came from Alberto Contador, Froome et al were content to let the Spaniard ghost up the road. The veteran may have lost the legs to challenge for a podium place, he does, however, have the mentality to attack when the opportunity presents itself.
As Aru dropped back, Dan Martin dropped the hammer, just enough to let the GC guys know that he was there. Martin has been a real pleasure to watch during this year’s tour. The suffering became unbearable for some, Michal Kwiatkowski, completely spent, stopped at the side of the road. Mikel Linda saw an opportunity to stretch his legs and fired up the road. When Froome decided to counterattack it was an explosion of aggression and power. His valiant effort reeled in his teammate, Landa. Skirmishes continued, Warren Barguil breezed passed Apatuma at the front of the race in a move that would clinch him a brilliant stage victory – what a finish it was.
“It’s really fantastic. I can’t believe, it’s like a dream for me.
“Last night Michael Matthews and I said we could never think about the polka dot and the green jersey and now it’s 2-2 in stages.” Warren Barguil (BBC Sport).
Bardet finished just ahead of Froome and Uran in the GC sprint, claiming four bonus points and reducing Froome’s overall advantage to 23 seconds.
Tomorrow’s stage is set up for a victory from the breakaway. The riders will leave the high-mountains. The route will take them from Embrun to Salon-de-Provence, a journey of 225KM.
1. Warren Barguil
1. Chris Froome
2. Romain Bardet, 0.23
3. Rigoberto Uran, 0.29
4. Mikel Landa, 1.36
5. Fabio Aru, 1.55