It's been a tough second week for Australian fans
Without Richie Porte, your viewing habits may have shifted over this past week, but there's reason for hope.
Michael Matthews' win in Rodez was a shot in the arm for those of us awake into the early hours. The Canberra rider has been in sensational form, most evident in his climbing strength, but nothing tops a stage win and Saturday's victory was just reward.
Also of note, Jay McCarthy's (Bora–Hansgrohe) ride to fifth place on the Rodez stage was particularly impressive given the caliber of riders he was tailing – Matthews, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors). More, please.
The UCI do not make it easy on themselves
Oh man. As if the disqualification of Peter Sagan (Bora–Hansgrohe) wasn't ridiculous enough, the second week gave us a laughable penalty to serial pest Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and then #Watergate.
Bouhanni was handed a 200 CHF (around $AUD265) fine and a one-minute time penalty for attempting to hit Kiwi Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors). Only a "no comment" was offered in response from the powers that be.
As for #Watergate - the docking and subsequent undocking of a 20 second time penalty to George Bennett (LottoNL – Jumbo) and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale Drapac) for taking illegal feeds in the final 10km of Stage 12 - was the decision overturned because Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale ) escaped the commissaire's glare? Was it complicated again because Bardet won the stage and penalising him would have resulted in a farce at the finish? The fact is, we still do not know why the decision was overturned, after all indications were that it wouldn't be, and this alone is problematic.
The only consistency to be found in these decisions is that they're consistently bad and make a mockery of the biggest race of the year.
What a difference a year makes for Sunweb
The two stage wins for Tom Dumoulin were a rare bright spot in a tough 2016 season for the team following the training incident which came close to ending the career of John Degenkolb. Fast-forward 12 months and Sunweb has regained its mojo and been in everything delivering nine top-10 results, including two stage wins to Matthews and Warren Barguil. Speaking of which…
Barguil will be hard to top for the polka dots
Heading into the final week, the man known as ‘Wawa' has a 58-point lead in the battle for the mountains classification. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Mikel Landa (Team Sky) will be fighting for the scraps.
Wince if you're Dan Martin
The Irishman lost one minute and 15 seconds when he collided with Richie Porte and heading into the final week, sits just one minute and 12 seconds off the GC lead. He should be in yellow. Now obviously we don't have a crystal ball and couldn't possibly know what would have happened if the crash doesn't occur but Martin's resurgence, knowing that he's been struggling to get out of the saddle due to injury, is stunning.
Yates looks to have secured the white jersey
Barring total disaster, Orica-Scott will go back-to-back with the young riders' classification win in Paris. Yates has been placed well at the key moments and finished in the top 10 on the key mountain stages to date.
The internal machinations of Team Sky are puzzling… again
While Michal Kwiatkowski has to be MVP of the race so far, there is little doubt that Mikel Landa is a credible Plan B for Team Sky. The question remains though whether the Spaniard is the fox guarding the hen house after he rode away from Froome on the final approach to the finish in Peyragudes on Stage 12.
We've been here before when Froome attacked Brad Wiggins in 2012 and now, Landa's loyalty to Froome is in question regardless of his efforts to wait for his team leader in the Massif Central on Sunday. Froome has his hands full to retain the yellow jersey with an all-out assault coming from Fabio Aru (Astana), Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran. Just 29 seconds separates Froome from Uran in fourth place and that should be enough of a distraction without any internal attacks on his leadership.
AG2R-La Mondiale mean business
A genuine French challenge on the yellow jersey has to be good for the race as AG2R attempts to better Jean-Christophe Péraud's runner up efforts to Vincenzo Nibali in 2014. The sight of no less than four of the distinctive AG2R jerseys riding for Bardet on Sunday's stage and splitting the bunch was satisfying. L'Equipe published a piece on Sunday saying that Bardet is "more attacking than Péraud", "more experienced that Jerome Pinot in 2014" and "stronger than Thomas Voeckler in 2011" and if that isn't a vote of confidence, I don't know what is.
All of this sets up a thrilling final week of the 104th edition of the Tour de France, where fans will be asking:
Can Marcel Kittel snag a record-equalling eight stage victories in the single tour and in doing so hold on to the green jersey?
Will Michael Matthews make up the 80 points he needs to become Australia's third winner of the points classification?
What else can the UCI stuff up?
Can Nairo Quintana salvage his Tour with a stage win?
How many seconds will separate first from third on the final general classification?
Will Froome make history with a fourth overall victory?