Road to Tour salvation starts
Le Puy en Velay is the starting point of the ‘Via Podiensis’ pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain but it will see off the Tour de France peloton on the road to yellow jersey glory. On paper, the 165km 16th stage to Romans sur Isere should be one for sprint king Marcel Kittel to claim a remarkable sixth victory this year. But for the overall contenders, including race leader Chris Froome, there are potential perils.
With less than 30 seconds separating the top four and another three riders within a further 90 seconds, this is the tightest Tour race in years. From Wednesday, two daunting Alpine mountain stages loom but for Ireland’s Dan Martin, the biggest dangers lurk elsewhere on this year’s enthralling Grand Boucle.
“Anything can happen in the Tour. If you have a bad day, especially with the potential for crosswinds (on Tuesday) and on Friday, the Tour could be decided on the flat, similar to Rodez (stage 14) rather than in the mountains where everybody expected it to be decided,” said the 30-year-old Quick-Step rider, lying fifth at 1min 12sec.
“You have to be concentrated until the finish and so far I’m really proud of the way I’ve ridden in terms of the focus and concentration I’ve maintained since the start.”
With the top riders largely neutralising each other on the toughest climbs, it has been elsewhere that they have had to look to try to make small gains. And Italian Fabio Aru, who held the yellow jersey for two days last week before relinquishing it back to Froome when he was caught out by the lightning fast run-in to Rodez on Saturday, believes the contenders are going to have to get creative.
“In my opinion, you have to be inventive on the bike. You can come up with all the possible tactics but it’s in the race that you find out if you’ve got the legs or not,” said the Astana leader, second overall at 18sec. Following Monday’s second rest day it promises to be a fast start out of the beautiful, historic and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Le Puy en Velay, known for its Notre Dame de l’Annonciation Cathedral, Corneille rock and Notre Dame de France statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. It’s relatively short at 165km and pretty lumpy to start with, which should encourage strong breakaway riders.
But the sprinter’s teams, especially Kittel’s Quick-Step, will want to control the break to set up their man for the sprint finish. He’s been almost unbeatable in that department this year and his rivals such as Andre Greipel and Alexander Kristoff will need soe divine inspiration if they are to steal a march on the German powerhouse. —AFP