Stage 18 Gap to Alpe d'Huez 168.5km
Alpe DUEX Huez.. It's like dating twin sisters.
Yesterday was the day, the stage from Gap to Alpe d’Huez but not just one ascent of the Alpe but two! To be honest, the potential for record times was minimal given the two ascents but the potential for explosive riding was off the charts. And hence, it seemed inherent that this stage was custom made for Contador: emotive, threatening and explosive. Resisting this would be The Froominator: Clinical and exacting. It was going to be a cracker. Rain threatened for several days and given the technicality of the final descent there was talk of canning the second ascent of the Alpe but the rain stayed away and the race kept its powder keg characteristic.
And from the start the attacks were explosive. I could say it could be due to the excitement associated with the stage, but really the breaks have been going ZUPER early all Tour. Saxo and Contador put the hammer down early forcing Froome to work and causing plenty of cursing in the Venga Bus. There were riders going out the ar$e after 5km and by the top of the first climb the Venga Bus was absolutely pumping with a special guest appearance from DJ Cadelephant, who only stayed for a quick set before heading back to the coalface.
Following the Col de Mense a break had been established with 9 riders: Voigt (RTL), Jeannesson (FDJ), Riblon (ALM), Amador (MOV), Sylvain LIKE A BOSS! Chavanel (OPQ), Boom (BEL), Danielson (GRS), van Garderen (BMC) and Moser (CAN). A very strong group for sure and Van Garderen was the clear cut favourite if they stayed away. The break drifted out quickly and at the base of the Ramp du Motty, Saxo again tried to get a couple of riders in the break with Roche and Paulinho going off the front of the group. These two would be a turbo charge for Saxo later in the race against a sure to be depleted Sky flotilla if they moved across.
Though it was going to be a tough task and it wasn’t long before they were sitting in no man’s land probably spending too much energy to actually be of any use later in the day…
The break’s gap had stretched up to 8 minutes at the top of the Col d’Ornon and they were now descending into the hornets nest for the run into the feral first couple of kms of the Alpe. 3km into the climb and Van Garderen upped the pace with only Riblon able to follow but not for long and soon TVG was alone.
The first ascent by the peloton was more interesting for who was going out the clacker than any excitement up front. Sky was dictating pace with a grim expression. Suck the life out of it guys! Towards the top of the climb the crowds were becoming insane. We don’t mind a cacophony of sound though whatever happened to standing on the side of the road and giving them a cheer and a clap as they went by instead of dressing up and carrying on like a pork chop in the middle of the road?
Coming to the top and TVG had faded which allowed Moser and Riblon to get back on making it 3 at the head of the race with about an 8 minute lead. There were various hijinks occurring back with the peloton regarding the chase for KOM points though it was doubtful these would stick.
The connecting road to the Cat 2 Cole de Sarenne was a charming little road and one to put in the memory banks for your next trip to France. Moser may not be so agreeable, losing touch with Riblon and TVG about a km from the top.
The descent had been talked up so much that no incident would almost be a letdown. No motorbike cameras were allowed so we only had ghetto birds for footage. Once we saw footage of the descent we understood: a horrendous surface with off camber turns all over the shop. Soon after the descent started and disaster for TVG when he had a mechanical and was left to try and close the gap to Riblon and a rejuvenated Moser. 5km down the road and Riblon went all boy scout on us and went bush, illustrating what the peloton had to look forward too.
Back in the GC battle and Contador took it right up to Froome by attacking on the descent with Kreuziger. They soon had a gap and were out of sight though Froome looked like he was taking it easy, preferring to make the time up on the ascent up the Alpe. In any case it was a moot point when Movistar, for some reason, decided to drive the chase and shut them down before the end of the descent.
Upfront and a lead group of TVG, Riblon and Moser had come back together for the final ascent of the climb. Surely TVG was now looking the goods for the win!
Moser went out the clacker almost instantly and then it was Riblon VS TVG. Riblon smartly got on the front to allow himself to set pace. It didn’t matter and soon TVG was on his own up the climb. Back in the bunch and Movistar were just thrashing the pace to the base of the climb. It was about to explode…
First big ticket to get punched: Mollema BOOM. Porte looked to be sitting up a bit for Froome and the situation was just itching for someone to set it alight. And it was Froome who attacked! Fantastic work, but the attack lacked some venom and was shut down with ease. Still Kreuziger then went BOOM. Froome then attacked again a km later! This DID hurt the group and Quintana slowly moved across while Contador et al were in the hurt box. Rodriguez then bridged across and all eyes were on ALBY…who did nothing.
Quintana then started having a dig at Froome who struggled to close the gap. Froome was starting to look like the weakest rider in the group! Purito sensed this and dropped the hammer. Quintana looked at Froome. Froome looked at the ground. But you don’t win the Tour unless you are a hard nut and Froome managed to scrape his way back onto the closing wheel of Quintana. Porte chased back up, began setting pace again, and then dropped Froome again! Then Froome started looking for food, obviously bonking and Quintana read that as his chance to go. No response from Froome and Porte. The mission was now to get Froome home. Porte had just been amazing today, and essentially every day bar one for this Tour. Today Porte reached a new high, pulling a full David Copperfield and conjuring a few critical energy gels out of thin air at just the hour of need. The commissaires will likely review this to see if it was actually magic or if he ducked back to the team car while they were serving high tea.
Actually this caused a bit of confusion — everyone initially thought that Froome had a mechanical so Quintana and Rodriguez appeared to sit up. Once it became apparent that he was simply hungry…well, you don’t get to be a runner for being a fat ____?
Up front and TVG was just so deep in the hurt box. Every stroke looked like a hot poker down his leg. Riblon was close but would need to ride out of his skin to catch TVG. But then the extraordinary happened…he did.
The gap was closing every 100m and Riblon had his quarry in sight. TVG was spent, Riblon was rejuvenated. The French were absolutely losing their minds on the side of the road and with 2km to Riblon got back on and applied the perfect race strategy of attacking immediately. Boom, didn’t give TVG any chance, blew past him without a second thought. Poor old TVG…
Riblon, looking like he was destroying his bike, went under the 1km banner and it was all over. It was his. THE FRENCH! FINALLY!
Well that was huge! We need another rest day to finish this Tour but the show must go on, time to duck down to the pharmacist for some go go juice for the remaining stages.