Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
Could Stage 17 have gone any better for Chris Froome?
Don’t answer, because clearly, he had a dream day.
Tejay van Garderen, the rider who had been the yellow jersey’s most consistent challenger, abandoned. Alberto Contador crashed descending the deadly roads of the Col d’Allos, losing two minutes.
Nairo Quintana rode aggressively but wasn’t able to put any time in the race leader.
One Alpine day down, three to go.
It looks like Froome is unbeatable, and his team just reinforces that invincibility, but no one can give up, especially with seven climbs on tonight’s parcours.
We saw the strategies Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar tried last night, placing riders in the break, only for them to sit up and wait for their team leader ahead of the final climb.
It didn’t work today, but if in the days ahead those two teams can mount a series of attacks on the climb and force Froome to follow, perhaps they can wear him down.
If not then the Tour de France will end in a procession and a second damp squib climax after Nibali’s dominating win last year.
It’s a good job then that Peter Sagan is still in the race because he’s fast becoming something of a cycling phenomenon.
At a guess, I’d say 99.9 per cent of Roar readers never saw Eddy Merckx race his bike.
Give me a second guess and I reckon 99.9 per cent of Roar readers would happily travel back in time to see Merckx race, if it were in any way possible.
To watch someone win 35 per cent of races they entered over a six-year period between 1969-1975, to win multiple grand Tours, stage and one day races, and to be the best sprinter, climber and GC rider in a Tour de France, beggars belief.
A palmares like this could never be assembled today because of the evolution of cycling since the Merckx era. No modern professional cyclist rides as much as Merckx did, or chases as many objectives in a race.
If, somehow, they did ride like that and win in the manner Merckx won, then doping would be the only way to explain such a complete dominance of the sport.
And what sort of treatment would a rider receive if we use what’s happened to Chris Froome recently as a guide?
Merckx won his first pro race, Milan-San Remo as a 20-year-old in 1966, but clearly, his best years were between 1969 and 1975.
Peter Sagan has just turned 25, and while he’ll never rival Merckx for wins, watching him during the past two and bit weeks has made me wonder whether there are some similarities between them, and whether more will evolve over the next few years?
For a start, physically they are quite alike.
Merckx was 1.85m and his race weight was 74kg.
Sagan stands 1.84m tall and races at 73kg.
For pure aggression, they also appear similar.
Sagan may not be winning very much, but you can’t say it’s not for the want of trying.
After another stage in the breakaway and another failed attempt to win, Sagan now has recorded 21 second places and he’s finished in the top five another 15 times.
He’s also won eight races.
A slice more luck, or power and some of those second places become wins and people would’ve been talking. Not in a way that casts suspicion over the credibility of a rider, but rather, marvels at Sagan’s aggression, power and consistency.
Sagan also suffers because riders follow him into the break, but then refuse to work with him when the finish is in sight.
Regardless, watching Sagan ride is a joy.
He sprints as well as anyone, time trials like a demon, cleverly engineers himself into breaks, and excels on the punchy climbs. And when he reaches a summit, Sagan descends – as he did on the road to Gap – with no fear.
It was a shame that Alberto Contador crashed last night because Sagan stopped to help him, costing the Slovak champion a chance to put on another descending master class.
Based on Merckx’s record, Sagan has just begun the best years of his career.
He already has 67 professional wins and just needs to reach Paris to claim a fourth consecutive green jersey.
On what we’ve seen with his impressive but frustrating five second places at the Tour, is it just a matter of Sagan getting a break-through victory, before he becomes a relentless winner?
A mini-cannibal, even?
It was sad to see six riders abandon the Tour de France last night including Tejay van Garderen, World Champion Michael Kwiatkowski and Aussie Nathan Haas.
Van Garderen was ill, while Kwiatkowski had been looking decidedly average for a number of days, but I can’t say for sure about the others.
Is this because of the rest day, or the largely unrelenting heat, or a combination of both?
Regardless, to lose six riders in one stage, when a crash isn’t responsible, is quite strange. Clearly, the race will be poorer for their absence, particularly the rainbow jersey and BMC’s van Garderen.
After what we saw last night, we can only wonder what tonight will bring.