Tour de France 2017
Roglic, the 27-year-old former ski jumper, was the last man standing from a select breakaway as he held off the chasing yellow jersey group to take the biggest win of his blossoming career on his maiden Tour de France.
Part of a large break that extricated itself from the peloton on the Col d’Ornon – the first of four climbs in the Massif des Ecrins region of the Alps – the LottoNL-Jumbo rider made his decisive move on the Galibier before using his fearless descending and impressive time trialling skills to cross the line 1:13 ahead of his pursuers.
Third over the summit of the interminable Col de la Croix de Fer, Roglic took maximum points over the Col du Telegraphe and won the prestigious Souvenir Henri Desgrange atop the Galibier as he slashed Warren Barguil’s lead in the polka dot jersey standings to 49 points – with a possible 58 points still on the table.
The powerful Slovenian’s ride on Wednesday was all the more impressive given his fall on the opening climb of the day – not long after a pile-up in the pack brought down a raft of riders, including green jersey Kittel, who later withdrew from the race with an injured shoulder.
On a dramatic day that was also animated by a gutsy long-distance attack by Spaniard Alberto Contador, triple champion Froome (Team Sky) managed to extend his overall lead by pipping rival Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) to third place and four vital bonus seconds.
Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) won the sprint for second place to pick up six bonus seconds and draw level with Bardet in the general classification. The Colombian and the Frenchman both trail British defending champion Froome by 27 seconds, with Italy’s Fabio Aru (Astana) dropping to fourth place after being distanced ahead of the summit of the Galibier.
Repeatedly distanced on the steep sections near the summit of the Galibier, Aru led a frantic chase on the long descent to the finish but finished 31 seconds down on his rivals in a group that also included Trek-Segafredo’s Contador, Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Louis Meintjes of UAE Team Emirates.
Briton’s Simon Yates also struggled to keep up with a series of stinging attacks from – most notably – Bardet on the Galibier, the Orica-Scott rider coming home a minute and a half behind white jersey rival Meintjes. Yates dropped to seventh place on GC at the expense of Ireland’s Martin, but still leads South Africa’s Meintjes by 2:38 in the youth classification.
Contador and bloodied Frenchman Barguil (Team Sunweb) – who finished in the chasing yellow jersey group despite hitting the deck in that early Kittel crash – both moved into the top ten at the expense of Italy’s Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Double Tour winner Contador had attacked the main pack with Quintana on the Croix de Fer with 125km of the 183km stage remaining. After Quintana faded, Contador rode on to join a break of around 30 riders – including Trek team-mates Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano.
After a major shake-up in the break on the Telegraphe, Contador rode alongside Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Mathias Frank (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) and Roglic on the Galibier with an advantage of more than three minutes over a pack rapidly slimming down thanks to the fierce tempo being set by Froome’s Sky colleagues Vasil Kiryienka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa.
Although the scene was set for a Contador special, it was Pauwels, Atapuma and Roglic who proved the most aggressive on the highest climb of the 2017 Tour before the Slovenian finally opened up the first lasting gap 5km from the summit.
Besides the lone leader, Atapuma was the only escapee who evaded the clutches of the chasing pack on the final climb – the Colombian cresting the summit a handful of seconds before Barguil consolidated his lead in the polka dot standings ahead of Contador and the big GC favourites.
By now the likes of Aru, Yates and Martin had all been dropped following a litany of attacks from Bardet, Uran and Froome. Roglic managed to negotiate the twisting technical descent of the Galibier to maintain his 1:30 gap as the race joined the main road at the top of the Col du Lautaret.
With only a crash or mechanical between him and a maiden win on the Tour, Roglic kept his cool while numerous battles played out behind – for the yellow jersey, for possible podium positions in Paris, and for the top ten.
But the only jersey to change hands at the end of an exciting day in the Alps was the green jersey, which was taken over by Australian Michael Matthews following the abandonment of Quick-Step Floors sprinter, Kittel.
Winner of five stages in this year’s race, the German crashed early in the day just as Stage 16 winner Matthews rode clear in a large break ahead of the Col d’Ornon. Team Sunweb’s Matthews went on to crest the climb in pole position ahead of Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) before winning the intermediate sprint to slash his deficit to Kittel in the green jersey standings to just nine points.
But Kittel threw in the towel at the top of the next climb, the Croix de Fer, to bring an end to what was shaping up to be a thrilling battle for green. Matthews now leads nearest rival, Andre Greipelof Lotto Soudal, by an insurmountable 160 points and will ride into Paris in green provided he avoids any mishaps.
Also throwing in the towel on a tough day in the Alps were French climber Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and British sprinter Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Oscaro).
With Froome’s lead over his two nearest rivals still just 27 seconds, the Tour continues on Thursday with the 179.5km Stage 18 from Briancon which takes on the Col de Vars ahead of the first ever summit finish on the mythical Col d’Izoard.