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If we have to summarise the Tour’s eleventh stage in a sentence, it probably goes something like this: 108 kilometres, four thousand metres of climbing and numerous brave but ultimately futile attempts to unseat the Team Sky armada.
But there’s plenty that brief summary doesn’t encapsulate in a spectacular second day’s racing through the Alps. It was the first of two uncharacteristically short climbing stages introduced by the Tour organisers this year to ramp up the excitement (the next being the 65km stage 17 in the Pyrenees), so fireworks were all but guaranteed — and indeed, after the teams had completed their pre-race warm up on trainers and the flag had been waved, the attacks began almost immediately.
The first group to get away notably included Peter Sagan, extending his advantage in an early intermediate sprint, and Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic), winner of two stages and the King of the Mountains in 2017. They were soon joined by Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) and a polka dot-clad, still-feisty Julian Alaphilippe, seeking to extend his advantage in the KOM classification. Later on the HC Montée de Bisanne, the arrival of an additional group of 15 riders turned the small leading group on the road into a big leading group.
With the peloton splintering behind, Movistar drove the pace on the front before launching Alejandro Valverde off the front. Collaborating with teammate Marc Soler, who dropped back from the front group, Valverde’s move briefly looked quite dangerous — he was even virtual yellow jersey for a while. Tom Dumoulin, meanwhile, slipped free from the group of favourites and set off in pursuit, joining teammate Søren Kragh-Andersen and picking up Valverde and Soler in the lead up to the final climb. Soon enough, Dumoulin and Valverde were going it alone in pursuit of the remnants of the day’s breakaway.
Team Sky drove a fierce pace, shelling GC rivals Adam Yates, Ilnur Zakarin, Mikel Landa and Jakob Fuglsang, and sweeping up all in their path, including a fading Valverde and a still-dangerous Dumoulin. Into the dying kilometres of the race, Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) was the sole survivor of the break, but with a fierce surge from Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), he too was caught in the last 400m. Thomas claimed the stage win and the yellow jersey, while Dumoulin edged out Chris Froome for second.