If you didn’t catch Wednesday’s race, here’s a quick recap:
Yesterday was another scorchingly hot day on the road – and a really long trek to the finish line. No major shake-ups in the overall standings, so all eyes were looking ahead to today, when the peloton will get its first taste of the Alps.
Of course that raises the question of just how long Julian Alaphilippe can keep the yellow jersey, given that his team is not really set up to shepherd an overall contender safely to Paris. Deceuninck-Quick Step has historically been a sprinter’s team, grabbing stage wins in the grand tours and/or specializing in the one-day classic races.
Protecting a guy in the yellow jersey for a few days, in the middle of the Tour? Sure, no problem. But having a cadre of strong climbers who can insulate the leader as he rides three mountain stages in a row? Well, that’s something completely different.
Other teams like Ineos (formerly Sky) are built for the task, with some of the strongest cyclists racing only to support the yellow jersey contender. Over the years they’ve been formidable, almost always dictating the pace of each stage, particularly as the Tour comes to a close.
As I write this I’ve just learned that one of the Ineos soldiers has been ejected from the Tour for an incident at the end of stage 17. Luke Rowe bumped into Jumbo-Visma rider Tony Martin as he peeled off the front of the peloton. At the time, it seemed like no big deal. Apparently the race officials thought otherwise. They also expelled Tony Martin, who would be instrumental in efforts to support Steven Kruijswijk, currently in the top five.
So perhaps the teams are a little more equal now?
I’m still unclear on the details surrounding the decision but there’s one important take-away: Geraint Thomas (last year’s winner and currently in second place overall) and Egon Bernal (also a top contender to win) will be a man down in the three hardest stages of the race. It’s a bit like taking a valued foot soldier out of an elite military platoon.
To add to the palace intrigue, there has been speculation that race officials have shown favoritism to French riders Julian Alaphilippe (currently in yellow) and Thibaut Pinot (climbing the ranks quickly and expected to excel in the Alps.) Eliminating strong teammates of two of their biggest competitors could be seen as more than a little biased – especially given the fact that no one besides Martin and Rowe was affected by the incident.
I don’t really know what to think. I’ve enjoyed Alaphilippe’s improbable tenure in yellow and, as with the French, I’d love to see one of their own win for the first time in 35 years. But perhaps not like this. Well, it wouldn’t be the Tour de France without a hefty dose of drama.
So, as with almost every stage thus far, anything can happen. I can’t wait to watch!
What to Expect in Stage 18
Another long day, but this time with four categorized climbs, two of which are classified as HC (beyond category, meaning the most difficult) and which come at the end of the stage. Between them, the peloton will climb a total of more than 16,000 feet.
Upon reaching the summit of the Col du Galibier, the riders will hurl themselves down the mountain to the finish. And wait until you see the roads! Twists and turns and, in many places, no guardrails or barriers to prevent an errant cyclist from plummeting hundreds of feet.
It could be a day in which the top ten contenders are shaken up and sorted out. Some who would stand on the podium if the Tour finished today might not make the top 20. There will definitely be drama. This is the Alps.
Tour de France by the Glass Recommendation – Wines of the Savoie
Have you ever tasted a wine from Savoie? It’s an Alpine region that borders Switzerland, and which is famous for its cheese. If you haven’t yet laid hands on a bottle of Savoyard wine, you’re not alone: most of production is consumed locally, leaving little for the export market. And that’s our loss, because these wines are good!
2017 Jean Perrier et Fils Cuvée Gastronomie Fleur de Jacquère Apremont (11.5% abv; SRP around $14)
The Perrier family, which has made wine since 1855, farms 62 hectares of vines in the shadow of the Mont Blanc, perhaps the most famous of the Alps. The best parcels for grape-growing in Savoie balance altitude and cooler climates with favorable south-facing aspects, making best use of the sun’s warmth. Apremont, where these grapes were grown, lies on such a site.
The Fleur de Jacquère takes its name from the grape variety, Jacquère, which is native to Switzerland. I found this wine to be a delight, full of crisp citrus notes and white floral aromas. In fact, I’m hoping to track down a few more bottles because it charmed me so much!
Color: Pale lemon-green, with a slight haze to it. Unfiltered?
Nose: Pronounced aromas even without swirling the glass. Notes of Pear, lemon, pineapple, and fennel. A day later, it’s still aromatic, with more notes of apple and lemon zest.
Palate: Very round in the mouth, with flavors of pineapple, pear, and lemon. A medium-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and a long finish with a rather savory note. I really loved this wine! Perfect match with a pork loin glazed with fig balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, atop chopped sweet potatoes, shallots, and pear.
I hope you can find a wine from the Savoie region to enjoy as you watch the race. They really are worth the time it takes to find them!
See you tomorrow for some ideas for Friday’s stage – again in the Alps.