Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup

Digne les Bains

Welcome to the Alps!

We’ve got just a few days left until Paris and the podiums.  In the meantime, the peloton must suffer through the punishment of the Alps.  It begins Wednesday on a route that reaches from Digne-les-Bains (photo above) to Pra Loup, and with a final climb etched into cycling history on a fateful day in 1975.  Eddy Merckx, Tour de France legend nicknamed The Cannibal, was well on his way to winning a sixth Tour, when he suffered during the final kilometers to Pra Loup and ceded his yellow jersey to Bernard Thévenet (a statue of whom memorializes the site where Merckx faltered.)

Today’s route is speckled with categorized climbs, getting harder and higher as the day goes on.  Two Cat 3s and one Cat 2 coming roughly every 25 km, then a sprint stage positioned just ahead of the nasty Cat 1 climb to Col d’Allos (2250 meters, highest point in this year’s Tour.)  Once the riders crest the summit, they will plunge down a very technical descent, with barely time to catch a breath (but no food or drink!) before they begin the final 1620 meter climb to Pra Loup.  Fatigue could well play a part for the contenders if they haven’t fueled up sufficiently prior to those last two monster climbs.  And after the drama surrounding the descent from the Col de Manse in Stage 16, we could be in for a real thriller after the Col d’Allos.  That said, most of the riders are familiar with the route.  Romain Bardet even won a stage of the Critérium de Dauphiné on this very slope a few weeks before the Tour began.  My pick for the stage win is Vincenzo Nibali.  He’s been riding well the past few days, and he seems to be doing better as pressure for the overall GC lead wanes.  He’s also a fantastic descender, and that could matter today.  Yellow jersey stays with Froome, barring any major disaster on the road (not a gimme, for sure.)  Should Lady Luck turn her favor away from Froome and Team Sky, look for Nairo Quintana to seize the day.