“Never a dull moment in this year’s Tour,” Chris Froome quipped after stage 15 of the 2017 Tour de France.
Too right. The combination of Ag2r La Mondiale’s mob-handed pressure, the rolling Massif Terrain central and Froome’s mechanical misfortune 37 kilometres from Le-Puy-en-Velay could have ended his spell in the yellow jersey.
But again, when it mattered, Michal Kwiatkowski was there at the right place, right time. When Froome pulled over to the side of a road with a broken spoke, his guardian angel effected a wheel change in the blink of an eye.
How about @michalkwiatek then?
National time trial champion
— Team INEOS (@TeamINEOS) July 16, 2017
You can’t plan for some things in the Tour. Or can you? Given how deftly he did it, perhaps Team Sky had Kwiatkowski practising pit stops on Teide.
The Pole’s switcheroo on the road to Le-Puy-en-Velay capped his work over the race’s second week. He has often served as Froome’s wheel to follow on hilly terrain and notably trimmed the lead of the Contador-Landa breakaway on stage 13.
For versatility and calibre of domestiques de luxes, it’s tough to be beat a Milan-Sanremo winner and former world champion. It’s easy to forget that the 27-year-old finished 11th overall in the Tour as a debutant in 2013.
After that wheel change, Kwiatkowski sank like a stone, finishing 169th, 26 minutes down on stage winner Bauke Mollema, at the back of the gruppetto.
But his quick thinking and fast hands marked the beginning of a comeback that saved Chris Froome’s yellow jersey. The later work done by Sky team-mates Henao, Nieve and Landa was eye-catching and important, but it could all have been damage limitation had Kwiatkowski not acted so fast.
Tour de France 2017: Rouleur Top Bananas
Stage 1 – Taylor Phinney
Stage 2 – Tony Gallopin
Stage 3 – Juraj Sagan
Stage 4 – Guillaume Van Keirsbulck
Stage 5 – Stefan Küng
Stage 6 – Frederik Backaert
Stage 7 – Reinardt Rense van Rensburg
Stage 8 – Lilian Calmejane
Stage 9 – Dan Martin
Stage 10 – Julien Vermote
Stage 11 – Maciej Bodnar
Stage 12 – Steve Cummings
Stage 13 – Alberto Contador
Stage 14 – Warren Barguil
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