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Blazin’ Saddles: Who will win the Tour de France? Second rest-day round-up

Just 29 seconds separate first from fourth as the riders put their feet up for the second rest day of the 104th edition of the Tour de France. With six stages remaining, our cyclo-scribe Felix Lowe predicts some possible permutations in what is shaping up to be the closest Tour in history.

Just 29 seconds separate first from fourth as the riders put their feet up for the second rest day of the 104th edition of the Tour de France. With six stages remaining, our cyclo-scribe Felix Lowe predicts some possible permutations in what is shaping up to be the closest Tour in history.

Who’s the odd one out between Chris Froome, Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran?

Easy, you say: Froome is wearing the fabled maillot jaune. He’s also the only previous Tour de France winner of the four riders currently occupying the top four spots in the general classification.

But what else? Unlike his rivals, Froome is still searching for his first win of the season.

The triple Tour champion has not entered a Tour de France without a win to his name since 2012 – the year he helped guide Bradley Wiggins to Britain’s first ever yellow jersey; the year he also, incidentally, won the first Tour stage of his career with victory at La Planche des Belles Filles – his only triumph of that season.

What also separates Froome from his rivals – Aru, Bardet and Uran – is that each of their first wins of this season (discounting Aru’s national road race title) came in this year’s Tour. So, while Froome may still hold an 18-second edge over the Italian in the battle for yellow, he’s still searching for an elusive win: a position he’s never been in before during any of his previous Tour triumphs.

At this point in the race in 2013, Froome was a commanding 4:14 ahead of Bauke Mollema after his Mont Ventoux masterclass the day before; in 2014, he was 3:10 up over Nairo Quintana; last year, he was 1:47 to the good (over Mollema once again – and 4:04 up on Bardet, the man who eventually rose to second).

Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain (R), the race leader's yellow jersey, shakes hands with second placed Movistar rider Nairo Quintana of Colombia on the podium after the 109.5-km (68 miles) final 21st stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race frReuters

Put simply: the Tour has never been this close before. Even in 1989, when the eventual winning margin of eight seconds was the slightest in Tour history, Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon were separated by 53 seconds at this point in the race.

So, what is going to happen over the final week of racing? Eurosport’s answer to Mystic Meg gets out his crystal baguette to run the rule over the remaining stages.

Tuesday 18 July: Stage 16

An early climb and some rolling terrain will suit a break – and could prove to be ideal ambush territory: but not for any of the big guns, who won’t wish to waste any energy in a stage that will probably come back together for a bunch sprint – especially ahead of the Alpine double-header on the horizon.

With the intermediate sprint not too far from the finish – and the battle for green re-intensified by a splendid showing by Michael Matthews in the Massif Central – we should see a bunch sprint of sorts with Marcel Kittel getting back to winning ways.

General classification: No change

1. Chris Froome

2. Fabio Aru +18

3. Romain Bardet +23

4. Rigoberto Uran +29

5. Dan Martin +1:12

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Wednesday 19 July: Stage 17

A day of destiny for the big GC riders and pretenders for the top ten, with two HC climbs preceded by steep leg-stretchers that will blow the race apart. Sleeping giants Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador will be forced to go early on the Col de la Croix de Fer – and to allay the fear of letting both men back into contention, Sky will use their tactic of throwing Basque pawn Mikel Landa up the road.

Astana’s Fabio Aru has been playing on borrowed time since his brief stint in yellow; the Italian is starting to suffer on the climbs and has no team whatsoever to speak of. He will be the rider who is found out on the Galibier – before crashing on the descent to the finish after pushing his luck. This will allow Dan Martin to get back into the top five, while Landa, who wins the stage ahead of Warren Barguil, rises to second.

But it’s not all good news for Sky after an isolated Froome concedes a handful of seconds to Uran, Bardet and Martin in the run into Serre Chevalier. Contador and Quintana are caught by the big guns before the finish.

General classification:

1. Chris Froome

2. Mikel Landa +15

3. Romain Bardet +18

4. Rigoberto Uran +24

5. Dan Martin +1:07

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Thursday 20 July: Stage 18

A breakaway goes early from which a trio of riders – Primoz Roglic, Pierre Rolland and Jarlinson Pantano – hold on to contest the win and mop up the bonus seconds on the Izoard, with the Slovenian emerging the unlikely winner. Back with the pack and Landa’s efforts catch up with him when the Spaniard is an early casualty on the Col de Vars following an attack from Aru.

Uran and Martin both tail off near the summit of the Izoard while Bardet attacks Froome relentlessly, but only manages to steal a few seconds off his rival at the finish. A good day for Aru sees the Italian back into the top five at the expense of Martin. Landa rallies but drops out of top three.

General classification:

1. Chris Froome

2. Romain Bardet +15

3. Rigoberto Uran +41

4. Mikel Landa +55

5. Fabio Aru +1:09

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Friday 21 July: Stage 19

This Tour has not been short of drama and controversy – and so it proves once again on a day which seems destined for a breakaway or bunch sprint, but actually emerges to be something of a GC duel thanks to a combination of crosswinds and mechanicals.

Bardet is the first to suffer after a puncture on the second climb is followed by splits in the pack in the Sisteron valley. Marcel Kittel is dropped on the final climb as a break is reeled in ahead of the final descent and run into Salon-de-Provence. But the Mistral buffets the peloton further, with Froome being caught out after another wheel change.

Froome’s losses are minimal – and he makes no gain on Bardet, who manages to catch the yellow jersey chase group in the final 10km. But the gaps to their rivals are reduced after – shock, horror! – Nacer Bouhanni wins for Cofidis. But the upshot is that there are still five riders all within one minute at the top of the standings ahead of the all-important time trial.

General classification:

1. Chris Froome

2. Romain Bardet +15

3. Rigoberto Uran +29

4. Mikel Landa +43

5. Fabio Aru +57

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Saturday 22 July: Stage 20

Like the Giro, the final time trial goes to script; unlike the Giro, that does not result in the leader’s jersey changing shoulders. Froome finally gets his first win of the Tour – and with it secures his fourth overall victory. Uran pushes his old Sky team-mate the hardest while Landa crashes on the descent of the Notre-Dame de la Garde climb while angling for a top three finish. The Spaniard recovers and does enough to holds off an out-of-sorts Aru.

General classification:

1. Chris Froome

2. Rigoberto Uran +49

3. Romain Bardet +1:01

4. Mikel Landa +1:45

5. Fabio Aru +1:58

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Sunday 23 July: Stage 21

There’s a crash on the Champs-Elysees which takes down numerous sprinters, most notably Andre Greipel – whose 10-year run of winning stages in Grand Tours comes to an end. Victory, at a canter, goes to Kittel – his seventh of the Tour. There’s no change at the top of the standings, give or take a few seconds here or there. Green goes to Kittel, polka dots to Barguil and the white jersey to Yates.

Final top ten: 1. Froome, 2. Uran, 3. Bardet, 4. Landa, 5. Aru, 6. Martin, 7. Yates, 8. Contador, 9. Meintjes, 10. Barguil.

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