Johannesburg - Two weeks into the world’s biggest cycling race, and all hell has broken loose on the roads and mountains of France.
The Tour de France enters stage 15 today with a very reduced peloton of riders as most of the sprinters abandoned the tour during the tough mountain stages.
The sprints are now going to be left to the wonderfully entertaining Peter Sagan to dominate. Green jersey holder (points leader) Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) are the only sprinters of note left in the race.
But it is the race for the yellow jersey where all the action and drama is centered.
Team Sky is dominating the leaderboard with Geraint Thomas in first place, and four-time tour winner Chris Froome in second.
As it stands, their only competition for the podium is Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet from AG2R La Mondiale.
Three tough stages in the Alps this past week, including the iconic Alpe d’Huez, saw the sprinters dying off at the back of the race.
Of the pre-race favourites to win the yellow, Nai
ro Quintana (Movistar) has lost a lot of time to the leaders, and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has abandoned the race with a fractured vertebra.
Meanwhile, at the front of the race, both Froome and Thomas have endured massive hostility from fans on the side of the road.
On Alpe d’Huez, Froome was jeered at and spat on, and one spectator was later arrested for trying to push him off his bike.
This is not going to end as the tour goes into the Pyrenees this week, where fans will again line the sides of the steep roads.
What to watch this week
Stage 17 on Tuesday is a 65km grid start over three of the toughest mountains in the Pyrenees. Racing just 65km in the mountains is unprecedented.
So is the Formula 1-like start organised on a grid according to the overall ranking.
The riders will race over the Peyragudes, the Col de Val Louron-Azet and finally the Col de Portet.
Stage 20 on Saturday is the individual time trial from Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette (31km), and this is where Froome, Dumoulin and Thomas will fight it out for yellow.
They are three of the best time trialists in the world. It’s going to be epic.
Riders to watch
There is some stunning young talent on show at this year’s tour.
Lawson Craddock from EF Education First-Drapac has been battling against pain since breaking his scapula in the opening stage of the race.
He has hung on bravely at the back of the peloton and, in doing so, is raising money to repair the Alkek Velodrome in Texas, which was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in September.
He has had to up his target several times, and his current total is just more than $107 000, with donations still coming in.
The young Colombian climber Egan Bernal (Sky) showed on Alpe d’Huez that he is probably a future tour winner when he put in a ferocious stint to lead Froome and Thomas up the mountain.
He is the youngest rider at the tour (21) and is going to do great things.