Chasing Le Tour: deja vu for Rui Costa

by Matt de Neef

If the sight of Rui Costa attacking from a breakaway on today’s final climb and descending to a solo victory seemed familiar, you weren’t mistaken. Just three days ago he did exactly the same thing, attacking the break on the Col de Manse before bombing into Gap to win stage 16.

Costa was part of a 23-man breakaway today that coalesced roughly 60km into the stage with Pierre Rolland and a couple of other riders further up the road. Costa made his move on the slopes of the Col de la Croix Fry and quickly overtook a flagging Rolland while others from the breakaway were in hot pursuit.

He crested the Col with a 50-second advantage over the nearest chaser, Andreas Kloden, and on the wet and technical descent to the finish Costa took plenty of risks. But the risks paid off and an exuberant Costa crossed the line to take his second Tour de France stage win in four days by nearly a minute.

You get the feeling Movistar will head home from the Tour de France thinking they’ve had a pretty good race. And they have. Costa’s won two stages, Nairo Quintana is set to win the Best Young Rider classification by more than 10 minutes and more importantly, Quintana sits third overall on GC with a chance to move into second tomorrow. And let’s not forget Alejandro Valverde who snuck into the top 10 as well after an attack from the yellow jersey group on the final climb today.

And speaking of good tours, how good has Jan Bakelants been? Before this year’s Tour de France few people had even heard of the Belgian. But after an extraordinary victory on stage 2, a third place today and the fact he’s been in plenty of breakaways throughout the race, I’m sure many people will be keeping a much closer eye on Bakelants in the future.

And so we arrive at the penultimate stage of the 100th Tour de France. At 125km in length it’s only a short stage but six tough climbs more than make up for that. The most decisive of these will be the 16km-long Mont Revard climb which tops out two-thirds of the way through the stage, and the stage-ending 10.7km climb to the Semnoz ski resort.

We rode that final climb today and there’s no doubt it’s a challenging way to end a stage. The average gradient is listed at 8.5% but there are plenty of ramps that exceed that. Judging by previous climbs in the race there’s sure to be fireworks on the slopes of the Semnoz, and if the race’s previous summit finishes are anything to go by Chris Froome will feature heavily.

Tomorrow is the last day in the alps and the last chance for KOM classification contenders to get big points (there are two 4th category climbs on the final stage worth 1 point each). Pierre Rolland is one point off the lead after spending today’s stage in the breakaway racking up points.

Expect to see the Europcar rider in the break again tomorrow, going for the points on the three 3rd category climbs, the 2nd category climb and the 1st category Mont Revard climb. It’s unlikely he’ll have the legs to be in the mix for the Semnoz climb if he’s targetted the earlier climbs. (Click here to read more about Rolland’s ambitions).

Either way, he’s got every chance to jump ahead of Chris Froome in the KOM classification tomorrow and wear that infamous polka dot knicks and jersey combo on the final stage into Paris. (He’ll wear the polka dots tomorrow by virtue of being second in the KOM classification to Froome who has another colour to wear).

While there’s a chance Froome will lose the KOM jersey tomorrow, there’s virtually no chance of getting yellow off his back. He’s more than five minutes clear of his nearest rival in Contador and climbing far too well to lose that much time tomorrow (even if he hunger-flats like he did on Alpe d’Huez).

The real battle will be for the remaining places in the top 5 of the general classification. Only 47 seconds separates 2nd place (Contador) and 5th place (Joaquim Rodriguez) with Quintana and Kreuzinger in between. The battle for second place would have motivated some of the many attacks in the yellow jersey group on today’s stage, and you can be certain that a similar thing will happen on the Semnoz climb tomorrow.

The question is, can Froome win his third summit finish and fourth stage of the Tour? If the past two mountain stages are indicative, Froome and his GC rivals might well let another breakaway go tomorrow. But if they don’t, look out. Froome might be leading the race by five minutes but he’s already shown he’s not afraid to try and extend his lead whenever he can.

And on the subject of GC leaders, the CyclingTips tipping competition is much closer than the actual Tour de France. With two stages to go Lukas van der Steen leads by a mere 1 minute 25 seconds. Anything can happen in the last two stages.

Until tomorrow, thanks very much for reading and before you go, take a look at these photos from stage 19.

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