First stage in the Alps led to some gaps between the top 10 riders in the overall classification.
After finishing in Bern at the start of the third week, the Tour de France peloton remained in beautiful Switzerland for two more days. During the rest day, the riders got to relax a little bit ahead of the next four brutal Alpine stages, where everyone is expecting to see attacks and a shake-up of the standings. First of these stages took place on Wednesday, between Bern and Finhaut-Emosson (184 kilometers), a new location on the race's map, but which has been used before in Tour de l'Avenir (2006) and Critérium du Dauphiné (2014).
Breakaway attempts were ignited from the start, but the peloton didn't seem content with any of these, so it rode a high pace in the opening hour, covering 52 kilometers and neutralizing all moves. It was only after 70 kilometers, almost halfway through the stage, that 14 men got away. Immediately, another group countered, and Julian Alaphilippe – most aggressive rider of stage 16 – was among those who tried to bridge to the leaders before the second classified ascent.
The escapees built a 13-minute gap by the foot of the penultimate climb, and in that moment it became obvious the winner will come from the break. Many riders got shed from that group, only Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) making it over the top in the lead. On the grueling Finhaut-Emosson (10.4 kilometers, 8.4% average gradient), Zakarin moved away from his companions and soloed to the win, while behind, the yellow jersey group was slimming under the impetus of Astana.
With four kilometers to go, Dan Martin jumped from there and opened a 10-second gap on the others, but Sky didn't give him too much space, bringing the Irishman back after 500 meters. Inside the final two kilometers, the group disintegrated following an attack of Richie Porte (BMC), to which only race leader Chris Froome could respond. The duo gained time on the others, while Dan pushed hard in order to limit the losses and eventually crossed the line less than a minute later, keeping his place in the top 10, with just four days to go.
His showing in stage 17 – first Alpine one of this edition – in which he had to fight also with the hot temperatures and the frenetic rhythm of the peloton, left Dan Martin fairly satisfied: "It was a very fast day and we finished way ahead of the schedule, despite the scorching heat. Movistar and then Astana pushed a hard tempo, whilst I didn't feel as good as after the first rest day, but even so I tried to attack. I thought Sky will back off, especially as Chris Froome didn't have any problems, but they kept on going and chased me. I am five minutes down on him in the GC, so I take this as a compliment, because it looks like I'm still a threat for them", said Dan with a wry smile, before concluding: "I remain confident and hope for some nice results in the next three days in the mountains."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele