There may be little prospect of Chris Froome relinquishing his grip on the yellow jersey, but there remains a strong possibility that he might miss out on winning the King of the Mountains prize.
With one day remaining in the Alps before this year’s Tour de France concludes in Paris, Pierre Rolland leads a string of riders who are likely to go all out on Saturday’s short 125-kilometer ride from Annecy to the unclassified mountaintop finish at Annecy-Semnoz in a bid to snatch the polka dot jersey from the Briton.
Rolland, who came eighth overall last year and was one of France’s biggest hopes for success in this year’s race, is just a point adrift of Froome in the fight to take the famous jersey after a fine ride in Friday’s 19th stage from Bourg-d’Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand. The 26-year-old, who won on L’Alpe d’Huez two years ago and at La Toussuire in 2012, showed off his climbing capabilities again on the arduous 204.5-km stage which included two unclassified ascents.
As a result, he took a total of 52 points to rocket to within a single point of Froome, who could become the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1970 to win yellow and polka dot jerseys in the same year but was only interested in sitting back and protecting his lead in the overall standings on Friday. Rolland attacked on the long climb of the unclassified Col de la Madeleine to reach the summit first and remained out in front at the summits of the Col de Tamie and Col de l’Epine.
He then ran out of steam, allowing Portugal’s Rui Costa to overtake and go on to win a stage for the second time this week. Nevertheless, he has now given himself the chance to add a new jersey to the white jersey he won for the best young rider on the 2011 Tour. “I will give it everything to try and get the jersey back but that’s easy to say now. My priority right now is to get back to the hotel and get my legs massaged,” he joked at the end of Friday’s stage. “If I’m on the Champs Elysees on Sunday and I don’t have the polka dot jersey I will be very disappointed.”
There may not have been a French winner of the yellow jersey since 1985, but the host country has a fine tradition in the mountains, with Richard Virenque having been crowned King on a remarkable seven occasions. Rolland’s compatriot Christophe Riblon, winner atop L’Alpe d’Huez on Thursday, wore the polka dot jersey on stage 19 and remains in contention to win it outright, as do Spain’s Mikel Nieve and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, of Movistar. The Europcar rider is looking to follow in the footsteps of his teammate Thomas Voeckler and become the second consecutive French winner of the polka dot jersey, but he must first negotiate Saturday’s stage. “It depends on whether the yellow jersey holder is going to try and win on Saturday, and what Movistar and Saxo’s tactics are.
“There’s 50 points on offer at the summit but I have to wait to decide whether it’s best for me to get in a breakaway.” Meanwhile, on paper, Quintana’s raw climbing talents may make him the next biggest threat, but the Colombian has admitted that his main objectives for his debut Tour are holding on to the white jersey and to his place on the podium in the general classification. “I don’t know if I will attack (on Saturday). We have to see how the race develops, but the most important thing is not to lose time,” said Quintana, who finished among the yellow jersey group on Friday and remains third overall.