Thursday July 19th, 2012

Stage 17Bagnères-de-Luchon / Peyragudes

Start 13h00 GMT 2+

Valverde's successful return

Stage summary19.07.2012Stage 17- Bagnères-de-Luchon / Peyragudes

Movistar had won a stage of the 2011 Tour de France with Rui Costa triumphant in Super Besse but really the Spanish team was always thinking about the return of its true leader Alejandro Valverde who was busy serving a suspension last year. Now that he's back in the race, he's back on the podium. He wasn't the contender for GC honours that Movistar would have hoped for - as he's well down the rankings - but that meant he was able to put himself in an escape group and chase a victory in the final stage in the Pyrenees of the 99th edition. And it was Costa who helped set up his leader for an impressive return to winning form at the Tour.
Valverde seems to have benefitted greatly from the tactics employed by Sky as it seemed apparent that Chris Froome was keen to race ahead of his team leader Bradley Wiggins in the final kilometres to try and claim a second stage win but instead he remained loyal to the yellow jersey and paced him all the way to the line where the two Brits finished second and third in a stage that had plenty of drama, created a few changes to the top order of GC but really didn't offer too many surprises. Now it's out of the mountains, onward to the time trial and then a Sky party in Paris...!

The progress report
The 143.5km 17th stage of the 2012 Tour de France started at 1.02pm with 153 riders in the race. The race from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes included five categorised climbs: the cat-1 Col de Menté (27.5km), cat-2 Col des Ares (55.5km), cat-3 Cote de Burs (76km), the final ‘HC' climb of the 99th Tour, the Port de Balès (at 111.5km) and then the final climb, ranked cat-1, which gave double points and was just 1km from the finish. The intermediate sprint was at 81km in Loures-Barousse. As soon as the flag fell to signal the start, we saw Burghardt (BMC) attack... again. He's done that five times in the 2012 Tour. There were several mild attacks before the first climb with a group of 23 ahead by 15” at 19km. Included in this move was Monfort (RNT), Taaramae (COF), Plaza (MOV), Valverde (MOV), Voeckler (EUC), Rolland (EUC), Martin (GRS), Peraud (ALM), Kadri (ALM), Feillu (SAU), Jeandesboz (SAU), Vanendert (LTB) Menchov (KAT), Trofimov (KAT), Casar (FDJ), Sorensen (STB), Kessiakoff (AST) and Leipheimer (OPQ). They were caught at 25km.

The early attacks
Valverde attacked again and drew Rolland with him. From behind Kessiakoff made a big attack and put distance into Voeckler but the rider in the polka-dot jersey responded well and, with the help of Rolland, was able to get to the front and into the lead before the top of the climb. On the descent a group of eight formed including Nibali who bridged the gap to the leaders when the road was wet and slippery. The rider in third overall reached a gain of as much as 25” (putting him briefly into virtual second) but he then shook hands with Valverde and allowed the seven to continue their escape without the pressure of having a threat to the GC lead up front. Nibali was caught at 39km.

The 17 stage leaders given little leeway
Voeckler, Martinez, Nibali, Peraud, Casar, Valverde, Costa, and Kessiakoff had a lead of 40” over 10 counter-attackers over the top of the second climb. Of course Voeckler attacked for the five points, of course Kessiakoff chased him... and Voeckler won that sprint. In the chase group included: Azanza (EUS), Izaguirre (EUS), Stortoni (LAM), Kadri (ALM), Hoogerland (VCD), Ten Dam (RAB), Sorensen (STB), Vinokourov (AST), Leipheimer (OPQ) and Weening (OGE). The peloton was at 1'40”. At 68km the chase group caught the lead group. The maximum gain of the escape was 3'05” at 71km. Cavendish and Porte (SKY) both crashed in the feedzone but remounted their bikes quickly and rejoined the peloton. All of the Liquigas team led the peloton from start of the second climb onward until the base of the Port de Balès. The bunch was 2'15” behind the escapees at the base of the fourth climb.

Port de Balès sets the scene for final climb
Azanza, Izaguirre and Kadri attacked the lead group but with 8km to climb, they were caught by a group of five: Leipheimer, Martinez, Valverde, Casar, Costa and Plaza. Once together, Costa attacked he rode several kilometres on his own but he was in the sights of the second group (Izaguirre, Martinez, Valverde and Leipheimer). Costa's move was part of a ploy to get Valverde to the front; the Movistar leader attacked, with 3.5km to go on the Port de Balès, and most others from the escape were swallowed up by the peloton. At the top Valverde led Martinez and Costa by 35”, Kadri and Leipheimer by 1'37”, Voeckler and Kessiakoff by 2'00”, Izaguirre by 2'12” and the peloton – led by van den Broeck and Nerz – by 2'30”.
There were no big changes to that sequence on the descent and the only thing that altered the order before the final climb was Costa taking a left turn when he should have gone right. With 15km to go, Valverde led Martinez by 1'55”, Costa by 2'30” and the peloton by 2'45”. Nerz's turned ended with 10km to go and then Basso led until Vanendert attacked. This was followed by a move from the Lotto-Belisol team leader, Van den Broeck who attacked 8.5km from the finish. By then Evans had recently been dropped and a group of 10 had formed as the first chase group of Valverde. The yellow jersey group was: Wiggins, Froome, Van Garderen, Horner, Nibali, Rolland, Vanendert, Pinot, Nibali and Rolland. From this selection, Pinot was the most willing to attack. He sped ahead with 3.5km to go and Wiggins and Froome followed; that's when the rider in second overall started looking behind (at Wiggins) more than he looked ahead. There had been some discussion but it seemed that the domestique was trying to convince the team leader that he should be allowed to attack and chase a second stage win in his debut Tour (and increase his advantage over third place on GC) but Wiggins didn't seem to react to any of Froome's questions. And thus they rode together to the finish, 19” behind the stage winner.

Valverde's third Tour stage win...
Valverde won at Courchevel in his Tour debut in 2005 and took the first yellow jersey with a victory on day one in 2008 and today, in his comeback to the Tour, he gave Spain its second win of the 2012 Tour (after Luis Sanchez) and the first this year for Movistar. He had a lead of two minutes at the base of the final climb and was able to maintain an advantage all the way to the line. Chances are he benefitted from the confusion that seemed to exist with the Sky riders who finished second and third in the stage but that's now only the subject of post-stage analysis.
Froome finished second, Wiggins was third and they have increased their advantage over Nibali on GC. The Italian slipped from 2'23” behind at the start of the stage to 2'41”. Van Garderen moves up from sixth to fifth after the collapse of Zubeldia on the final climb and Wiggins will wear the yellow jersey in stage 18.

Stage 17 Bagnères-de-Luchon / Bagnères-de-Luchon

All about the stage key moments

Jersey wearers after the stage 20

Classifications after the stage 20


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