Chris Froome had already won a stage of the 2016 Tour de France, legitimizing what has become a nearly-guaranteed yellow jersey on his shoulders in Paris by making an audacious descent in the Pyrenees. He didn’t necessarily need to win an individual time trial to secure his third Tour de France title. Yet there he was on Stage 18, starting last on the 17-kilometer course from Sallanches to Megeve, ratcheting up his speed at every time check in hopes of winning a second stage. In the end Froome came across the line 21 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin, who won the first time trial in the Tour by over a minute.
The stage profile was a climber’s dream, with 10 of the 17 kilometers featuring uphill stretches up the Cote de Dormancy and the Cote de Chozeaux. The first two and a half kilometers of climbing included an average gradient over nine percent, testing the riders’ legs immediately after two and a half weeks of racing. The pitch on the Cote de Dormancy increased to over 16 percent in places, allowing for significant gaps to build up in the process.
Alexis Gougeard took the early lead on the road, coming in among the early riders with a time of 33:06. Gougeard’s lead held for nearly two hours, until fellow Frenchman Nicolas Edet eclipsed the time by 29 seconds. Edet was the next to sit waiting in anticipation, and his time held for an hour and a half until Jerome Coppel broke the 32-minute barrier. Jon Izaguirre was the next to lead provisionally, pipping Coppel by 12 seconds with a time of 31:46. Izaguirre had less time to enjoy his feat, as Thomas De Gendt came through a second faster.
Then Dumoulin hit the course, bedecked in his Dutch national time-trial champion skinsuit, and one of the few riders to opt for a fully-aero time-trial bike for the mountainous race against the clock. The Dutchman started blowing away the time splits at each checkpoint, catching Jan Bakelants seven kilometers into the ride and continuing to remain tucked in his aero position for all but the steepest sections of the climbs. The effort resulted in a 40-second advantage on De Gendt, and positioned Dumoulin for his second time-trial victory of the Tour.
It looked as though the time would hold, as one after another the remaining riders failed to best Dumoulin against the clock. Richie Porte set the fastest time at the first checkpoint, besting the leader’s split by nine seconds, but could not hold the momentum all the way to the finish in Megeve. Eventually Froome was the man with the last chance, and after the first checkpoint the Kenyan-born Brit was 14 seconds behind Dumoulin and 23 seconds behind Porte.
But that’s when Froome began to ramp up his pace, making up four seconds on Dumoulin by the second checkpoint. The descent to the finish line provided another opportunity similar to Stage 8, when Froome rode away and used his expert bike-handling skills to jet down the mountainside to victory. In the final kilometers, the defending champion dominated the clock, turning a 10-second deficit into a 21-second advantage by the end.
The result merely solidified an already solid showing in yellow, providing Froome with a four-minute buffer over his closest rivals. More than anything, the 2016 Tour has become a race for second place, with just 68 seconds separating second-place Bauke Mollema from sixth-place Richie Porte with two chances left to reorder the positions prior to Paris. With more than double the lead he enjoyed en route to victory last year, only disaster can strip Froome of victory at this point.
So what is left to watch? The final two mountain stages on Friday and Saturday offer eight more categorized climbs between them, making the King of the Mountains polka dots the last competition with any semblance of competitiveness — and that is a stretch, given Rafal Majka’s 83-point lead in the classification. And while Mark Cavendish’s departure from the Tour to focus on Olympics preparations puts something of a damper on the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, the remaining sprinters will get one last chance for glory… even though Peter Sagan is guaranteed his fifth consecutive green jersey in Paris.
In the end, there is always individual glory and a few more chances to watch the best cyclists in the world on the biggest stage in their sport.
Stage Results and Standings after Stage 18
|1||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||0:30:43|
|2||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||+0:00:21|
|3||Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team||+0:00:33|
|4||Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team|
|5||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||+0:00:42|
|6||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||+0:01:02|
|7||Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar Team||+0:01:03|
|8||Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||+0:01:05|
|9||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:01:08|
|10||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||+0:01:10|
General Classification (yellow jersey)
|1||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||77:55:53|
|2||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo||+0:03:52|
|3||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||+0:04:16|
|4||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||+0:04:37|
|5||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||+0:04:57|
|6||Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team||+0:05:00|
|7||Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team||+0:06:08|
|8||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||+0:06:37|
|9||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:07:15|
|10||Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step||+0:07:18|
Points Classification (green jersey)
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||425|
|2||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step||228|
|3||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie||156|
|4||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||152|
|5||Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange||143|
|6||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||136|
|7||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal||128|
|8||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||124|
|9||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||116|
|10||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team||114|
King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey)
|1||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team||173|
|2||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||90|
|3||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Team Katusha||78|
|4||Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||69|
|5||Jarlinson Pantano (Col) IAM Cycling||63|
|6||Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data||62|
|7||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||58|
|8||Stef Clement (Ned) IAM Cycling||53|
|9||Rui Costa (Por) Lampre – Merida||50|
|10||Kristijan Durasek (Cro) Lampre – Merida||36|
Best Young Rider (white jersey)
|1||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||78:00:09|
|2||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:02:59|
|3||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin||+0:31:38|
|4||Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18||+0:34:26|
|5||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||+1:05:55|
|6||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||+1:36:12|
|7||Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||+1:43:14|
|8||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18||+1:55:45|
|9||Jan Polanc (Slo) Lampre – Merida||+1:57:38|
|10||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||+2:13:09|