Tour de France Podium Battle Heats Up
It was another big day in the Alps for the 2013 Tour de France, but, as expected, there were no real challengers for the Yellow Jersey. Today's stage featured plenty of climbing, but with a fast descent to the finish, it was hard for anyone to gain much time. With just two days to go until Paris, Chris Froome is in complete control, but the battle for second and third is just heating up.
Today the riders took to the course to cover a 204 km (126.75-mile) stage that ran from Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand. The stage featured five climbs—two huge "Beyond Category" climbs early on, as well as a Category 2 and two Category 1 climbs near the end.
Team Europcar's Pierre Rolland put in a valiant effort out in front in an attempt to win the stage and earn France a second stage win at this year's Tour, but he was caught 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) out and ended up finishing 16th on the day. The winner was Rui Costa of Movistar, who finished a full 48 seconds ahead of a surging Andréas Klöden. It was an impressive win from Costa, who—at 42 minutes back overall—is in no way a threat to the GC contenders.
The real battle out on the course came between four riders separated by just 47 seconds who are all hoping to find a way onto the podium in Paris. The closest to Froome is Alberto Contador, who sits 5:11 behind the leader. Then comes Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Movistar), Roman Kreuziger (Contador's teammate on Saxo-Tinkoff), and Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Team Katusha). Any of these men could end up on the final podium with Froome, and they all know it. Late in the stage today there was some jousting between them to see if something could shake out, but there was no change in the standings at the end of the day. That should bring a little drama tomorrow when these four may fight it out on the final climb of the Tour.
Speaking of tomorrow, it's the penultimate stage of the race and will once again be a tough day in the mountains. The 125-kilometer (77.66 mile) ride from Annecy finishes at the summit of Annecy Semnoz, a Beyond Category climb with a the finish line right on top. Earlier in the stage, there are several Category 2 and 3 climbs and a single Category 1, but considering the amount of climbing the riders have already done in the Alps this week, their legs are likely to be quite tired. The push up that final hill will determine the final rankings of this year's race. Since no one will attack the Yellow Jersey on the way into Paris, Sunday will be a day for the sprinters. Tomorrow will decide second and third place, since the winner is already in the bag.
Once again today, there was no change in who holds the various Tour jerseys. Froome stays in Yellow of course, and Peter Sagan is in Green as the top sprinter. The White Jersey for the best young rider is still on the back of Quintana Rojas who has looked fantastic at just 23 years old. The battle for the Polka Dot Jersey for the King of the Mountains is still up in the air. Currently that jersey is also held by Froome, but Pierre Rolland is just one point back. It is likely Rolland’s legs are shot after today's effort, however, and Mikel Iturralde of Team Euskaltel-Eusadki, Quintana Rojas and Christophe Riblon are all within striking distance. The winner of this title will obviously be decided on the climbs tomorrow as well.
The team competition has been a good battle, too. Team Saxo-Tinkoff is in the lead at the moment, and the entire squad has performed very well throughout the race. Their closest rival is Radioshack Leopard who is about three and a half minutes back. It is possible that they could overtake Saxo tomorrow, but it doesn't seem likely, especially with two members of the team looking to get onto the podium.
The official outcome of the race will actually be decided tomorrow, so if you're a fan of the race you'll certainly want to tune in. Sunday is largely a ceremonial ride into Paris for the Yellow Jersey during which he can take in the scenery and wave to the fans. This year's final day should be a special one however, as it will be an evening ride into Paris and will start in the gardens at Versailles and cover 118 km (73.31 miles) into Paris where the peloton will pass through the courtyard of the Louvre. As always, the race will end on the Champs Élysées but instead of turning in front of the Arc de Triomphe (as is tradition), the riders will actually race around that monument. It should make for an exciting finish and we'll have to see if Mark Cavendish is able to once again claim victory on the final stage.