Stage 17 provided the last chance for the opportunists, before three big days in the Alps, and as expected, it was a fight for the breakaway to go clear at the start of the 200-kilometer stage.
A large group of 33 riders, including Van Avermaet and Schär, escaped quite quickly but having missed the move, Total Direct Energie proceeded to chase for the first 40 kilometers before finally conceding defeat.
Once the peloton sat up, the breakaway’s advantage quickly grew to more than five minutes and with none of the 33 riders a threat to the General Classification, it was clear it would be a day for the breakaway to go to the finish line.
With the peloton happy to let the breakaway go and solid cooperation amongst the large group, the advantage increased to over 15 minutes after the first climb of the day, the category four Côte de La Rochette-du-Buis.
A brief period of heavy rain provided a welcome relief from the scorching heat experienced this week but, it was back to business in the final 40 kilometers when riders started to attack from the breakaway.
Schär was quick to cover the early moves and the breakaway remained all together with 30 kilometers to go before, just a handful of kilometers later, a strong 11-rider selection, including Van Avermaet, was drawn out at the front of the race.
More attacks saw the group whittled down to six riders approaching the category three Col de la Sentinelle, which topped out with just 8.5 kilometers to go, but it was here that Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-SCOTT) launched his ultimately winning solo move.
Van Avermaet showed his constant determination in the first chasing group behind, giving it everything he had left in the closing kilometers of the race before eventually taking a hard-fought third place on the line, 41 seconds behind the day’s winner.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I think I did everything right. I went in the good moves at the right moments and on the climb, I was on my limit so I have to say that there, the others were stronger. I did a good sprint in the end though and I think that winning was impossible so I tried to get the maximum out of the day and I think I did that.”
“It was good to be in the breakaway with two guys, me and Michi, and it’s really important to be in the right moves and on the right wheel and that’s what I did well today. On the last climb, it was about the legs and I was strong but not strong enough to take the victory.”
“It was really warm today and in the end, I suffered quite a lot because of it but, luckily we had that one rain shower in the middle of the race and that helped to cool us down.”
“It was really rough at the start. I started on the first line and I knew that Thomas De Gendt was going to do something and he did it. He was able to explode the bunch himself and I was suffering on his wheel but I made it into the group as one of the first five riders. We then started rolling and I didn’t know if I could roll through because I didn’t know if Greg was in the group. So, at first, the guys were not so happy with me because I didn’t help them but once I got confirmation that Greg was there, because in a situation like you can’t look back, I was super happy and started to work.”
“Greg and me have known each other for long enough, we know who has what role in the circus so in the final, I was covering the first moves and again it was rough and I went really deep to do that so then, in one moment, I paid for it and I was at the back of the group. It was lucky because at this moment, Greg moved by himself and that was the split that stuck. He’s a smart rider, he can smell when it’s time to help or when it’s time to go by himself. I was happy he was there and from then on, I had a completely different role. I had to be defensive and not help find the harmony in the back group so again, guys were again annoyed with me but that’s my job. It was good though and I think we can all be happy that we gave it our all.”
Sports Director, Valerio Piva:
“It was a big group out in front and we were able to have two guys in there. Some other teams had more but, it was perfect for us. We had the right man in there for us, Greg, and he and Michi did a perfect job all day together. Finally, we knew that it was a narrow road when the group split and I told the two guys that and they moved perfectly with Greg jumping in the smaller group before the climb. He was able to stay with the best six riders on the climb and he also did a good move but when Trentin went, I think he was the best.”
“Greg was waiting a little bit but Trentin was able to make a big gap quickly. I think third was the maximum that Greg was able to do today with this kind of finish and the climb in the final. He made the best out of the day and, as a team, we did a good job. We were where we needed to be and we tried to win the stage. Third is not bad and we will try again.”
Tour de France
Stage 17: Pont du Gard > Gap (200km)
Top 3: 1. Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-SCOTT) 2. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) 3. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team)
CCC Team Top 3: 3. Greg Van Avermaet 21. Michael Schär 83. Joey Rosskopf