Opinion: Will Team Sky attack Bardet into Paris for podium place?

Posted on: July 22nd, 2017

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Will Team Sky attack Bardet into Paris?

Romain Bardet is in 3rd place on the Tour de France by just 1 second from Mikel Landa. Will Team Sky abandon tradition and make the final stage a GC race?

 

Will Team Sky attack Bardet into Paris?

 


By Cillian Kelly

Publisher, Irish Peloton


During this year’s Tour de France we’ve seen a number of incidents which have put the unwritten rules of the sport to the test.

Primarily, the notion of whether or not it is acceptable to attack the yellow jersey holder when he has just suffered from a mechanical problem with his bike.

We saw two major incidents during the Tour. The first was when Chris Froome, wearing the Maillot Jaune, had a mechanical on Stage Nine while climbing the Mont du Chat.

His rival Fabio Aru appeared to see Froome in trouble and deliberately attacked at that precise moment.

The second was on Stage 15 when Froome broke a spoke at the foot of the Col de Peyra Taillade.

Romain Bardet’s AG2R team were on the front of the main group at the time and took the opportunity to attempt to squeeze Froome out of the yellow jersey and out of contention for the victory.

Two different scenarios, two different riders testing the unwritten rule, no right answers.

 

 

But this is not the only unwritten rule in cycling. There is another which will be prevalent when the race reaches the Champs Élysées on Sunday.

Nobody attacks the leader of the Tour de France on the final day of the race.

Indeed, the expectation is that the general classification battle does not extend into the last day.

The points classification is the only exception, simply because the final sprint in Paris often impacts the standings in that competition.

Aside from that, Paris is a procession. And nobody should ruin it with pesky GC attacks.

But with Mikel Landa (Team Sky) just one second off Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) who is currently 3rd, will tradition be thrown out tomorrow?

It has happened before.

The 1947 Tour de France was decided by an attack on the final day. The Italian Pierre Brambilla was in the yellow jersey but that didn’t stop Jean Robic from attempting to take back the three minutes he needed to win the race.

Brambilla reacted too late to the move and ended up losing over 13 minutes to the Frenchman, who won the Tour.

Maybe 1947 is too far back to be relevant to the modern Tour. How about 1987 then? A Tour we are surely all familiar with.

We all know that the race was won by Stephen Roche, but a detail that is perhaps forgotten by most is that at the start of the final stage into Paris, Roche didn’t just have the yellow jersey, we was leading in the race for the green jersey too.

Unsurprisingly, Roche wasn’t interested in the green jersey. But the rider in second place, Jean-Paul van Poppel, wanted it very much. Roche led the Dutchman by 17 points before the final stage.

It was a lead that Van Poppel could probably have overhauled anyway given that he had won two bunch sprint stages already and there were also five intermediate sprints on the final day worth four points each.

But it was a lead that was large enough that Roche could have caused problems for him if he had a mind to.

Roche had other worries. His lead over Pedro Delgado in the general classification was only 40 seconds and he harboured genuine concerns about a Spanish ambush, the likes of which had seen Delgado wrestle the 1985 Vuelta a Espana from Robert Millar.

A deal was made with Van Poppel and his Superconfex team.

The Dutch team would do their utmost to keep the race together for a bunch sprint, helping to snuff out any moves made by Delgado.

And Roche would willingly concede the green jersey without a fight.

As it happened, 1987 was one of the rare years where the Champs Élysées stage was won by a breakaway rider, the Canadian Jeff Pierce.

Van Poppel finished 9th in the bunch sprint behind which gained him enough points to take the green jersey. No moves by Delgado were made. Van Poppel was happy. And Roche won the Tour.

Thirty years ago, the GC contenders were concerned enough about each other that they were forging deals on the final stage into Paris.

In the years between 1987 and 2003 (with the notable exception of 1989 when the final stage was a time trial), the gap between first and second before the Champs Élysées stage was never less than 1’40”. Probably too much time to consider a final day coup.

Sixteen years was more than enough to establish a ‘tradition’.

By the time Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich arrived into Paris at the end of the 2003 Tour separated by just 61 seconds, any notion of attacking the yellow jersey was no longer deemed to be acceptable.

Armstrong and his team partook in the now customary mid-race champagne toast as the procession of a stage unfolded.

But this tradition has been borne of an accident. It just so happens that the Tour was never close enough in those years to consider a move on the Champs Élysées.

This year Chris Froome (Team Sky) leads Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) by 54 seconds.

And Bardet is 2:20 back in third. But the crucial gap is that one second separating 3rd and 4th.

Is the final place on the podium enough for Team Sky to put Froome’s champagne away tomorrow and attempt to forge a time split that would lift Landa onto the podium with him?

He has ridden so well for Froome, he may rightly think he deserves a crack at it; especially after beating Bardet by 1:12 today.

 

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