Speeding downhill at 75kph on unprotected Alpine roads, Tour de France rookie Primoz Roglic on Wednesday scaled the race’s highest peak and then barreled down the other side while holding off the competition on the famed Galibier climb to win stage 17.
Chris Froome consolidated his overall lead as Fabio Aru lost touch with the three-time champion’s group on the punishing gradients of the Galibier. The mountain pass rises to 2,642m in altitude, with the thinning air compounding the effort for the riders.
Froome finished 1 minute and 13 seconds after Roglic in a group with Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet, who climbed to second and third overall respectively. Aru dropped from second to fourth.
Froome outsprinted Bardet to the finish line, securing four bonus seconds for placing third on the stage. Uran was quicker still, beating Froome to get six bonus seconds for second place.
Aru could not keep up with Froome’s group on the Galibier, falling behind after the bursts of acceleration from Bardet and Irish rider Dan Martin.
Mouth open, the Sicilian repeatedly labored his way back to the group until a final burst of speed toward the top from Bardet dropped Aru for good.
Bardet said he was also hoping to leave Froome behind, but the Briton showed no signs of difficulty in staying with him on a stage that moved him a big step closer to keeping the yellow jersey.
“I did my utmost,” Bardet said. “I raced to take the jersey and I came close to dropping them at the top of the Galibier. I attacked. That’s the way I love to race. I have no regrets. I tried everything.”
Bardet, Froome, Uran, French rider Warren Barguil and Mikel Landa zoomed down the long descent from the top together, never slowing, to prevent Aru from catching them.
Aru is now 53 seconds behind Froome overall. Uran and Bardet trail the leader by 27 seconds.
The Team Sky leader was greeted at the finish by French President Emmanuel Macron, who followed the stage in a car.
Another tough day of climbing awaited yesterday, with a mountain-top finish on the Col d’Izoard.
The final time trial tomorrow could be decisive in determining the podium places at the finish in Paris on Sunday.
“At this stage of the race, everyone’s on their hands and knees, let’s see what happens,” Froome said.
Roglic, a former ski jumper, is the first Slovenian to win a stage in the 114-year history of the Tour.
The LottoNL-Jumbo rider sped away from his own four-man group, which included two-time champion Alberto Contador, with 5km still left to climb on the Galibier.
He labored to the top, through barren slopes of scree and patchy grass, and then raced down alone over the last 28km to the finish at the Serre Chevalier ski station.
The Tour lost Marcel Kittel, the winner of five stages this year, after he crashed in the first of four ascents on the 183km stage from La Mure.
With blood running down his right leg and his shoe apparently broken, Kittel pulled up.
With a new a new bike and a new shoe, he got going again and was treated while he rode by the Tour’s doctor, but later abandoned.
Kittel had been leading the Tour’s green jersey competition, awarded for points collected in sprints during and at the end of stages. He had 373 points. With his departure, Australian Michael Matthews inherits the jersey with 364 points.
One of the most active riders Wednesday was two-time champion Alberto Contador.
Riding with the panache of his glory days, the 35-year-old Spaniard sped away from Froome’s group on the second and longest climb, the 24km ascent to the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, but Contador faded in the Galibier and could not stay with Roglic.
“I want people to remember me as a rider who tried things, who was courageous,” Contador said.
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