Chris Froome enhanced his clutch on the yellow jersey after a prevailing act by Team Sky in the Alps
The question that had reigned the Tour since the summit of the Peyresourde on 9 July was whether Nairo Quintana would be capable of taking the fight to Chris Froome once the race reached the Alps and on the evidence of the first of this weeks four Alpine stagecoaches, the Colombian will not be up to the task.
Last times runner-up was powerless even to hold the tempo of Froomes closest contenders in the final kilometre after the race governor and his former team-mate Richie Porte had hovered the nest and, while his loss of 28 seconds may not prove irrefutable, the trend is in one tendency only.
This finish was never expected to be definitive but the omen are ominous for Froomes challengers as the hasten chairman chipped away more experience, finishing with Porte ahead of Adam Yates who remains third overall at 2min 53 sec Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet, with Quintana limiting his loss but searching utterly spend. There were bigger losers: most notably the Dutchman Bauke Mollema, who declined back inside the final two kilometres but held second place, 2min 27 sec behind Froome, while Alejandro Valverde cracked 4.5 km from the line and sagged from fifth to seventh overall.
Froome said: Quintana tried but perhaps he didnt have the legs. Richie was very strong today. It wasnt easy today, the first stage was flat out. Its never easy but Im feeling better than in any third week of a Grand Tour before.
He expects Quintana and Porte to be the peril people in Thursdays mountain time contest; the latter seems set to move up towards the podium but quoting the Colombian as security threats seems a merely courtesy.
Up above this remote recognize only a few kilometres within the Swiss border, Mont Blanc was unseasonably white-hot, with snow threatenings still in place for footpaths, in spite of the fact the Tour again baked in searing temperatures. Porte gazed the coolest of Froomes antagonists and the 1min 45 sec he lost in the stage finish at Cherbourg could cost him dear.
The Australians criticize with two kilometres to travel prompted a replies from Quintana but Wout Poels was put to work on Froomes behalf, with his attempt sufficient to dislodge Mollema, which in turn motivated Froome to accelerate. Quintana hung on before cracking 400 m from the line as Aru, Yates and Bardet wisely kept at their own pace.
Froome and the little circle of contenders for the top 10 it is stretching actuality to promote them as more than nominal menaces for the overall title fought out their own duel, implemented by Irelands Daniel Martin, but won convincingly by Froome. A few minutes earlier the stage victory had been contested by two of the trio who predominated the final phase of Sundays stage through the Jura to Culoz, with Ilnur Zakarin of Russia taking the stage from Jarlinson Pantano of Colombia.
The Russian scaped Pantano and the sovereign of the mountains Rafal Majka at 7.5 km to lead, with the Colombian chasing to no avail. Zakarin strove horribly in the final kilometre, to the fullest extent that when he tried to take his hands off the handlebars to do up the zip of his t-shirt to display his patrons name, he wobbled and virtually fell off.
By then he had all but closed a timely triumph for the Katyusha team but inevitably, given the state of Russian athletic, the reed-thin 26 -year-old from Tatarstan, the world junior era test champ in 2007, has a doping record. He tested positive for the steroid methandienone in 2009 and helped a two-year expulsion, even though he holds it was merely a youth peccadillo, that he was misled and has attended the mistakes of his ways.
He came to prominence last year where reference is won the Tour of Romandie ahead of Froome and added a stage win on a rain-soaked period in the Giro dItalia. This time, he depicted strongly in Romandie, where he held on to Quintana on the second stage but was disqualified from the triumph for misbehaving in the sprint. He was unlucky to gate-crash out of the Giro when fifth overall.
With 13 teams still to triumph a theatre, the duel to get into the escape that would decide the stage finish was intense, which in turn have all contributed to 51 km being covered in the firstly hour southwards out of Berne. A group of 11 riders developed, acceded to by a further eight, including the points captain Peter Sagan, who has a practice of going in mountainous escapes, snaffling the intermediate sprint details and then cycle-touring into the finish.
Together with Sagan were past stagecoach wins Majka and the Culoz winner, Pantano, plus Zakarin, who had felt he was robbed of the Culoz victory by a mislay contact lens. By the paw of the final double ascents 30 km of climbing split into two by an 8km downhill they had a 12 min lead, and one of their numbers was assured of the stage win.
Both the front peloton and the main group stretched and divided as soon as the offer is reached the first descents of the first category, Col de Forclaz, a relatively broad road cutting across a steep hillside between tight-packed vineyards above the cities of Martigny. The batch was a familiar one: Team Skys domestiques on the figurehead, the remain strung out behind. The Forclaz was followed by a brief descent and then, at the item where the road into France exited straight onward, a right turn on to the finish ascent, 10.4 km long, at an average gradient of around one in 11.
This finish among a composite of three hydroelectric embankments close to 2,000 m above sea level on the Franco-Swiss border was a enormous logistical experimentation. The big crew buses could scarcely get up the single-track mountain street on the final climb, while the pulpit was sat precariously between a rockface and an abyss with the reservoir at its paw. There was barely cavity for 50 beings to watch the t-shirts being awarded. The Tours massive publicity caravan was not permitted to drive up to the finish, making this a curiously muted occasion.
The action on Thursday shifts down the hollow past Chamonix to the 17 km climb through the cities of Combloux to the ski resort of Megve for the Tours first mountain time visitation since 2013, when Froome prevailed a longer stagecoach in the south of the Alps. There is a flat run-in to the initial steep ascent, which then drags upwards before what should be a breathtaking 2.5 km sprint down to the line.
The start is in Sallanches, a small commune with 16,000 inhabitants near the Mont Blanc massif and with immense resonance for French cycling love as this was the site of Bernard Hinaults victory in the world road race championship in 1980.
This was one of the Badgers most resounding acquires, forged on the slopes of the Domancy hill, which features in the course.
This nod to what now seems a golden era underlines that this has been a good Tour for the French, still without a theatre winning and with only Bardet in the top 10 overall and five days to alter that trend.
Stage 17 cause( top 10)
1 Ilnur Zakarin( Katusha) 4:36: 33; 2 Jarlinson Pantano( IAM Cycling) +55; 3 Rafal Majka( Tinkoff) +1:26 4. Kristijan Durasek( Lampre) +1:32 5. Brice Feillu( Fortuneo) +2:33 6. Thomas Voeckler( Direct Energie) +2:46 7. Domenico Pozzovivo( AG2R) +2:50 8. Stef Clement( IAM Cycling) +2:57 9. Steve Morabito( FDJ) +4:38 10. Richie Porte( BMC Racing) +7:59
General classification( top 10)
1. Chris Froome( Team Sky) 77:25: 10 2. Bauke Mollema( Trek) +2:27 3. Adam Yates( Orica) +2:53 4. Nairo Quintana( Movistar) +3:27 5. Alejandro Valverde( Movistar) +4:15 6. Romain Bardet( AG2R) +4:27 7. Richie Porte( BMC Racing) +5:19 8. Fabio Aru( Astana) +5:35 9. Daniel Martin( Etixx-Quick-Step) +5:50 10. Louis Meintjes( Lampre-Merida) +6:07