Fabio Aru (Astana) has swapped his Italian champion’s jersey for a yellow one and the GC battle is a more open now. In stage 12, we saw a moment of weakness from Froome. In a few hundred metres, he lost significant ground and a handful of seconds to the six riders who finished ahead of him at Peyragudes.
Instead of considering the usual GC suspects – riders who could challenge Froome – a few additional names have come into the picture.
Of course, there’s Aru and Bardet, the winners of the two mountain-top stages. There’s a new race leader six seconds ahead of Froome. And last year’s runner-up is ranked third, only 25 behind the Sardinian.
Let’s also consider the Colombian in fourth place. The winner of that epic ninth stage, Rigoberto Uran, has pedigree. He won a mountain stage at the Tour (and a TT at the Giro in the past). He has a long history in cycling and yet he was never really considered a rider capable of winning the Tour.
After 12 stages, however, he’s fourth on GC just 55 seconds behind the yellow jersey. Even better if Uran was not penalised by the commissaires for feeding in the final five kilometres. He was pushed back by 20 seconds and fined 200 Swiss Francs.
“He’s flying under the radar,” said Cannondale-Drapac’s Charly Wegelius on Wednesday night. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”
The former Sky rider cannot be overlooked any longer.
“Froome has started to talk about him,” lamented Wegelius. And that’s not what Uran’s DS wants. “Let him just be there in the shadows a little bit longer. We don’t want them thinking too much about him,” Wegelius laughed.
There’s no question Sky has the might to control the peloton. The British outfit has been doing it for most of the race. But there’s reason to believe there could be a challenge to the three-time Tour champion.
Sky juggering.. naut?
In stage 12 we, once again, saw a mishap for Froome. And once again the other GC riders waited… Froome rode off the road on a descent and racing resumed when he re-joined his peers who are vying for the title this year.
But, at Peyragudes, a crucial scene unfolded. On the steep final ramp, the others took on the race leader. For all of Sky’s might, Froome is more exposed than he’s been since he started collecting yellow jerseys.
He’s still second overall but there’s a queue of challengers: Aru leads the way, Froome is six seconds behind, and then comes Bardet. Two of this trio are quality climbers but their TT is… ah, average at best.
But Uran? It makes sense that Froome is paying attention to The Other Colombian.
We can essentially forget about Nairo Quintana. He lost another two minutes in stage 12. He is a shadow of the rider who pushed Froome all the way to the end in 2013 and 2015. But Uran? He can’t be ignored. He could surprise. He is becoming a genuine title contender.
The uphill finish for stage 12 and the final ramp to the line was imposing. For the challengers, it provided a launch pad to make up time. For Froome it was a few hundred metres too far for him to remain in control.
For Bardet it was an ideal setting for a stage win. For Aru it is the place he first became a leader of the Tour de France. And for Uran, it is a reminder that rewards come to those who quietly ply their trade in the background, away from the fuss.
The Aussie link
There’s an Australian connection with Uran in 2017. Michael Drapac has invested in the Colombian’s team and the win for Uran in Chambéry was Drapac’s first success in his time as a sponsor of a Tour team. It was reason to celebrate for a squad that has been also-rans for the past couple of seasons.
Uran’s name isn’t often uttered when it comes to yellow jersey prospects but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
It’s exciting for those watching from afar, as Drapac is. He was at the start in Düsseldorf but he’s away from the Tour as it races through the Pyrenees. Still, he tunes in and offers the occasional comment. Could he imagine ‘Rigo’ winning the Tour? It’s a long shot but he is capable of matching the best on the climbs and, with a bit of luck, it might just happen.
Drapac is succinct with his answer: “I don’t want to imagine it,” he laughed, “I couldn’t cope with it emotionally.”
Of course he’d love it to happen but we wait to see what comes next.
Just because the blue line is often in complete command at the front of the bunch, let’s at least recognise that race for the yellow is still wide open. The lead has changed after stage 12 and there is now a little bit of anticipation as we ride on towards Paris. This race is past the halfway mark but that doesn’t mean the competition is over.