“If I’m going to have any hope, either [Giulio] Ciccone or myself, of winning this jersey in Paris,” EF Education-EasyPost’s Neilson Powless said before stage 17 of his plan to reclaim the polka dot jersey at the start of the week, “we basically need to win every climb today.”
Powless had been custodian of the jersey for 13 days this Tour (one day he was keeping it safe for Jonas Vingegaard) and stage 17, the queen stage of the race, was a key opportunity to get it back. But winning every climb, “including at least being in the top five of Col de la Loze, the final climb of today,” was a tall order. “To do that you need a big gap on the GC guys, so hopefully a lot of guys want to be aggressive.”
The Col de la Loze was always going to prove pivotal, as not only was it an HC climb, but its stature as the highest pass of the race meant the KOM points doubled to a maximum of 40 for the first over the top. With Vingegaard only 6 points away and Tadej Pogačar 14 points, it was expected that the GC race would once again swallow up the King of the Mountains classification, making way for more awkward mannequin action on the final podium in Paris.
Getting back in that jersey, even by one point, was Powless’ goal, he went on to say. He was only trailing Lidl-Trek’s Ciccone, by five points, but the race eventually went up the road without him. Instead, Ciccone took maximum points over the first three summits of the day, while Felix Gall scored the massive haul atop the Loze. With only Gall, Simon Yates, and Pello Bilbao surviving from the break, Jonas Vingegaard was the fourth rider to pass over the Col de la Loze.
At the end of the day, Ciccone led stage winner Gall (Ag2r Citroën) by six points, and Vingegaard by seven, while Powless dropped to a distant fourth.
“To be here after this stage is already a good result, we just did our plan for today, to go full gas for the points, especially in the first two climbs,” Ciccone said after his successful day out where he emerged still clad in polka dots.
“It’s not a good rival because he’s flying so it will be hard for me,” the Italian continued, speaking of Gall. “We calculated already that today maybe we can lose the jersey but we are still here with a few points in front. Now we need to recover and think about the next plan.”
This next plan appears to be saving everything for stage 20, where a final showdown to decide the King of the Mountains competition will take place.
Stage 18 to Bourg-en-Bresse offered only two KOM points across two fourth category climbs, and so not worth the energy expenditure, while the fourth category and third category on stage 19 similarly came and went without any interest from the KOM contenders.
Instead, stage 20 has three second category climbs to begin the day, followed by a third category and then two first category climbs in the finale, the final two climbs of this year’s Tour de France.
A maximum of 37 points will be awarded throughout the day and the 2023 King of the Mountains classification winner will be crowned. It’s a three-rider race, with Ciccone on 88 points; Gall 82; Vingegaard 81. Powless is mathematically still alive on 58 points, but realistically out of the running; he would need to win every climb while the others scored effectively nothing. Gall and Ciccone have more paths to victory.
Crucially, for Ciccone, maximum points (17) over the first four categorised climbs would be enough to keep Vingegaard at bay should the race become a GC battle on the final two first-category climbs, the Petit Ballon and the Col du Platzerwasel.
For Gall, he will need to take seven more points than Ciccone to wear the polka dots on the podium in Paris. Should be the first to the top of those first four climbs of the day and Ciccone take second on each, he would be a point ahead. However, should Vingegaard then be the first over the final two first category climbs, he would take the jersey.
With the GC battle done, you would expect a large breakaway group to head up the road to contest the final stage honours for the non-sprinters, and within that an intriguing sub-plot between Ciccone and Gall, who will be fighting all day to the top of each ascent. A wild card may be Tadej Pogačar. While the UAE Team Emirates rider can’t take polka-dots, he is thought to be hunting a second stage win this Tour, and Vingegaard might go with just to keep an eye on him.
For the first time since Romain Bardet in 2019, we may have a winner of the polka dot jersey who isn’t the overall Tour winner.
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