The peloton’s perspective on Tour de France’s stage 17 experiment

Stage 17 of the Tour de France was fun to watch, but was it fun to race? We asked riders throughout the peloton.

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TRIE-SUR-BAISE, France (VN) — Stage 17 of the Tour de France was fun to watch, but was it fun to race?

The much-hyped 65km stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to the Col du Portet delivered a compelling GC battle on the final climb, as Geraint Thomas (Sky) fought off Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Chris Froome (Sky) was dropped, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) escaped for the victory.

The stage was short, painful, and intense. It started with an unorthodox grid-style seeding — riders were arranged by their times on GC. Within a few hundred meters of the start, they hit the lower slopes of the Col de Peyresourde, the first major climb of the day. The peloton shattered on the climb, with the best climbers racing ahead, and the sprinters and domestiques fading.

Quintana completed the journey in just over two hours. Last-place finisher Michael Hepburn finished 31 minutes later — still under three hours.

Between these two bookends, the peloton’s working class raced over the three cols with different objectives in mind. For some riders, the day was an opportunity to contend for a stage win. For others, the day was all about making the time cut.

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)

Bauke Mollema went on the attack in stage 17. Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Mollema was one of the first riders to attack on the lower slopes of the Col de Peyresourde, shortly after the peloton rolled out from Bagnères-de-Luchon. It was the second consecutive day of attacking for Mollema, who saw his GC ambitions deflate in the Alps. Mollema rode alongside a group of strong climbers: Alejandro Valverde and Marc Soler (Movistar), Omar Fraile (Astana), Pierre Rolland and Daniel Martinez (both EF Education First-Drapac), Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and others.

Mollema was eventually reeled in on the second climb of the day, the Col de Val Louron-Azet. He finished the day in 31st, 10:50 back.

“The start was a bit of a joke because the first kilometers were not so hard,” he said. “It was easy to get to the front. It was all a big fuss and really for nothing.”

“I think the short stages are nice, but it didn’t bring the action that everybody was hoping for. It all happened on the last climb like it normally does. It can be more intense, but it just depends on the types of climbs you do. At the bottom of the last climb, it still felt like we had just started. It might be better to start with a harder climb.”

Taylor Phinney (EF Education First-Drapac)

Taylor Phinney was simply working to make the time cut on Wednesday. Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Phinney (EF Education First-Drapac) knew that the day was not designed for him. His goal was simply to make the stage’s time cut, which was set at 25 percent of the winner’s time, more than double the usual cut for road stages. Still, that placed the cut at around 38 minutes, and completing the course in under three hours meant riders like Phinney had to maintain a stiff pace on the climbs.

Phinney estimates he was dropped by the peloton within 500 meters of the start. He linked up with three other riders and began to pace himself along the race, eventually passing two dozen or so riders on the ascents of the Col de Val Louron-Azet. He finished alongside a sizable group in 122nd place, 25:48 down and well within the time cut.

“It was basically a time trial to make [the time cut]. In the end, it was about a similar effort [to a traditional stage] you just didn’t have that 100 kilometers of flat beforehand. It was nice to just bang it out. I prefer that over the stage before, which was 220km of just cruising. Cruising through pepper spray.”

“The trend is now to make some stages shorter, and I’m OK with that. It just makes the racing more intense, which is more exciting for viewing. I’ll never be a factor in a stage like that. So, as long as they don’t make it impossible for a guy like me to finish, I’ll be OK with it.:

Wout Poels (Team Sky)

Wout Poels set up Sky’s Geraint Thomas to finish third on the day. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

As he has done throughout this Tour, Poels came into stage 17 knowing his job was to ride the front in defense of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. Poels and teammates Luke Rowe and Jonathan Castroviejo rode to the front of the peloton on the rollout from Bagnères-de-Luchon and began to tap out a strong pace up the Col de Peyresourde. Poels dropped back in the group, then came back to the front, and helped lead Sky’s train into the base of the final climb to Col du Portet. Poels set the pace for the yellow jersey group for much of the final climb of the final climb. He was dropped after an attack by Steven Kruijswijk upped the pace. He finished 19th, 5:12 down.

“The [shorter] distance didn’t change our strategy. We did what we always do and controlled the group pretty well. All in all, I think the stage was about the same as [a normal mountain stage]. We just missed 80km or so, and much of that is usually flat. I quite liked it. It wasn’t a bad experience for us. It was just a little shorter and much more intense. Yeah, of course I’m still tired. You had three climbs like that, so you’re going to get tired. The speed is no different, the effort is just shorter.”

Rory Sutherland (UAE Team Emirates)

Rory Sutherland worked for Dan Martin on stage 17. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Rory Sutherland came into the stage as a domestique for Dan Martin, whose late-stage attack nearly earned him the stage win. Sutherland rode in the front group up the Col du Peyresourde, and was unhitched from the peloton on the ensuing climb after AG2R-LaMondiale upped the pace. The summit of that climb, theCol de Val Louron-Azet, was essentially the day’s finish line for Sutherland, who was able to ride to the finish with a sizable group. He finished 19:32 down on Quintana. Like Mollema, Sutherland said the unorthodox grid start did little to spice up the action. Sutherland said he supported the stage format, however, due to the action at the end.

“Instead of sitting around and waiting, you get the action early, which is great. I think that is what people want to see. To us, the riders, when the time cut is big enough, it’s fantastic. The dynamic wasn’t different. It was all pretty much the same. The effort was similar. You can go harder because you don’t have to go for so long. So everyone just gets in their place earlier. The fatigue was less. The last guy is tired, the first guy is tired. The guy in between is less tired, which is good because that’s where I finished.”

Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac)

Lawson Craddock has soldiered on in the Tour despite injury. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Craddock faded from the main group early, and then rode with Phinney and others to the finish. Craddock described his pace for the day as “full gas from start to finish.” He finished alongside his teammate in 125th place.

“I actually I thought it was a good stage. You cut right to the chase. There was a lot of anticipation before the stage, and some nerves in the bunch. I think it provided excitement, and I think it was manageable for the guys in the front and the guys in the back. It was just different. A lot of these stages, like the stage [16] from Carcassonne, we had 220 kilometers and it was incredibly difficult. There was a huge fight for the breakaway that lasted over 100 kilometers. So it was a big challenge for a lot of guys. On [stage 17] you knew that the breakaway was going to go away from the gun. I liked it. It established the hierarchy quickly.”

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