Team Sunweb’s Barguil – winner of Stage 13 to Foix on Bastille Day last Friday – was already assured of topping the polka dot king of the mountains classification when he made his decisive move inside the final 7km of the gruelling hors categorie climb.
Attacking from the select group of race favourites, Barguil reeled in the remnants of an earlier 54-man break before passing Colombian Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) with one kilometre remaining. With a huge smile on his face, the 25-year-old surged clear in the eerie Casse Deserte to write yet another stunning chapter in what is proving to be an unforgettable Tour for Barguil and his dynamic Sunweb team.
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Twenty seconds passed before a battling Atapuma – denied a win on Colombia Day – just held on for second place ahead of Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), the Frenchman edging British defending champion Froome (Team Sky) for third place and four vital bonus seconds.
With Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) crossing the line two seconds back for fifth place, Bardet rose to second place in the general classification – 23 seconds behind Froome – with Uran now 29 seconds off the summit.
Froome’s Sky team-mate Mikel Landa – who had attacked the main favourites inside the final three kilometres – finished sixth to rise to fourth place on GC at the expense of Fabio Aru of Astana. The Italian national champion struggled with the constant accelerations on the final ascent en route to finishing just over a minute behind Froome and the other GC favourites.
Barguil, who now has an unassailable lead in the polka dot jersey standings, leapfrogged Spaniard Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) into ninth place. The Breton became the first rider to win two stages while wearing the polka dot jersey since the great Colombian climber Luis Herrera in 1985 – six years before Barguil was born.
Britain’s Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) conceded 22 seconds to white jersey rival Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) but retained his seventh place on GC and a lead of more than two minutes over the South African in the youth standings.
Barguil’s Sunweb team-mate Michael Matthews – another double stage winner in this year’s Tour – finished safely in the gruppetto to retain the green jersey he picked up following the withdrawal of German quintuple stage winner Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) on Wednesday.
The second of back-to-back stages in the Alps was a 179.5km ride from Briancon taking in the Durance valley and the Col de Vars before culminating with the first summit finish on the Col d’Izoard in the Tour’s 114-year history.
With more than 50 riders hitting the Col de Vars with a gap approaching eight minutes over the main pack, it seemed odds-on that the stage would be taken by one of the plucky escapees.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) led Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Atapuma over the summit of the Vars with a small gap over a chasing group of 20 escapees and 6:35 over the peloton, which were now being controlled by the Ag2R-La Mondiale team-mates of Bardet.
It was the Ukrainian Lutsenko who led the race going onto the Col d’Izoard after dropping Frenchman Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) in the stunning Guil gorge ahead of the final uphill slog to the finish. Atapuma set off in pursuit alongside Dani Navarro (Cofidis) and Gallopin – with the main pack starting the climb 3:30 in arrears.
Atapuma rode clear to pass Lutsenko with 6km remaining before a flurry of attacks behind saw many of the GC favourites – most notably Aru – struggle on the steep 10% section of the climb. With the pretenders for yellow marking each other out, Barguil sniffed an opportunity and darted clear with Contador.
As Barguil shed the Spaniard and closed in on Atapuma as the race entered the Ventoux-esque moonscape of the Casse Deserte, Landa upped the tempo in the streamlined group of favourites. Bardet was first to respond – taking Froome and Uran with him. Froome then attacked just ahead of the short downhill section 2km from the summit.
Ahead, Barguil caught and passed Atapuma – the third time the Colombian has been denied a mountain victory by a Frenchman in the last 10 months following losses to Lilian Calmejane and Pierre Latour in last year’s Vuelta.
In the battle for yellow, Bardet reeled in Froome once the gradient increased near the summit before rounding his rival to take third place in the back wheel of Atapuma and pocket four bonus seconds.
With Friday’s Stage 19 – at 222.5km, the longest in the race – taking place over rolling terrain but without any major difficulties, the destiny of the yellow jersey will be decided on the 22.5km individual time trial in Marseille on Saturday, for which Froome will be among the favourites.
The 2017 Tour de France concludes on Sunday with the traditional final stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
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GC Leader - 1. C. Froome