This was clearly not 2015 and despite all the expectations on Thursday at the Alpe d’Huez Stage 12 of the Tour de France. Neither was it a deja-vu for Nairo Quintana or Team Movistar as the Colombian was unable repeat that 10km attack on Chris Froome of three seasons ago. In fact, as they deepened into the stage Quintana went backwards and was unable to muster a response to Team Sky duo of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome in this key stage. The talented Colombian perhaps now seeing his climbing powers wane and powerless in this decisive Alpine stage on Thursday. A day which saw hm drop to ninth place a trail by 3,56 with only one more mountain stage to finish left in the Pyrenees.
Over the past two days the Team Movistar attack has been muffled with Marc Soler and Alejandro Valverde making some moves on the way to La Rosiere on Wednesday with little or no impact. Similarly, on the 175,kms stage the next day more shapes were thrown when Valverde joined the second breakaway a few minutes further up the road - before easing back int the peloton just shortly before the final climb. The logic seemed to suggest then that it was Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa who were tasked with attack on this third and final climb of the day. But when it eventually happened it was rather feeble with Team Sky probably the most surprised of all with it lack punch.
Then as the stage progressed the lead group was joined by Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida who was looking menacing at one point and the seemingly every present Tom Dumoulin of Sunweb. As the start of the climb approached it was already clear that the runaway stage leader Kruijswiljk would not take the Maillot Jaune on this occasion and would be reeled in before the stage was over. Depending on what was left in the dutchman’s tank. Although the pace he had set in ascent of Col de la Madeleine was starting to fade and the peloton was happy to accept the pace marked by Team Sky. Not ceding the stage yet it seemed to breakaway rider. This was a stage famous for hustle and the noisy fans with this year’s event proving definitively that a long day-on the mountain side sun for many might do more harm than good.
The traditional Dutch Corner passed without incident and it was further up the climb that there were difficulties. One of which forced Nibali to abandon the Tour after a fall caused by some spectator encroachment . Then Chris Froome was hit at one point and soaked up much booing on his way up the mountain. A general disorder suggesting changes may be imminent in crowd management in the future for the sake of rider’s safety. Notwithstanding, Froome still tested his companions to see if they could match his effort as they continued along the narrow road gap afforded them by roadside spectators. As they moved up the mountain group reduced to just four on the last sector – Dumoulin, Froome, Thomas and Romain Bardet.
The Frenchman had attempted to escape for a number of kilometres but to no avail. In the end he settled back into the race for the finish which saw a short discussion take place between Dumoulin and Thomas. Before the washman set off for the finish line. It was Bardet who came third behind a weaker looking Froome. A result which puts Sky in control of the race and Thomas with a firm hold on the yellow jersey into next week. Perhaps even Paris depending on the Team Sky’ strategy over the coming days.
Stage winner Thomas said afterwards: “Honestly I'm speechless. I don't know what to say. Not a chance in hell I thought I was going to win today. I just followed Dumoulin, Bardet and Froome were attacking - obviously a bit of bad luck for Nibali, I rode over his back wheel. I nearly came down myself. I don't know what to say.”
“This is just unbelievable, can we just go to Paris now?” continued Thomas, “I said yesterday this race is made for me now, today I can be happy for sure now.