Tour de France 2017: Talking points from the first two weeks of the closest race in history
By Luke McLaughlin, Velon Media Team , 17 Jul 2017
Chris Froome leads Fabio Aru by just 18 seconds in the general classification going into the final week (PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The closest-ever Tour de France resumes on Tuesday with the top four riders separated by a mere 29 seconds in the general classification.

It promises to be a fascinating final week, but with hardly a chance to draw breath across a hectic first two weeks, here is a recap of the big talking points of the 2017 race so far:

Stage 4: Sagan sent home

Debate raged about the incident that shocked the Tour de France on Stage 4. Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) tangled with Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) in the final sprint. The end result? Cavendish abandoned with a broken shoulder, after a crash also involving John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Ben Swift (UAE-Team Emirates). Sagan was sensationally disqualified from the overall race, having initially been relegated to 115th on the stage and docked 30 seconds in GC.

Cavendish, right, and Sagan clash on Stage 4 (Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty)

Sagan flicked his elbow at Cavendish as the Manxman tried to squeeze through on his right in a typically hectic sprint. Was the Slovak world champion simply reacting to Cavendish's brake hood suddenly nudging up against his body? Or was he trying to muscle Cavendish out of it?

It looked very much like a standard racing incident. The race jury decided it was a dangerous move, and to make an example of Sagan by removing him from the race just four stages in. At least there was no bad feeling between Sagan and Cavendish, as they demonstrated on social media:

Stage 9: Aru told to wait

After several flat or undulating stages the 2017 Tour erupted on Stage 9. Seven categorised climbs (including three hors-categorie) blew the peloton to pieces and there was drama on Mont du Chat, the final HC climb on the road to Chambéry.

A group of favourites was together when race leader Chris Froome's hand shot up, signalling a problem. Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) immediately attacked and distanced the maillot jaune, who stopped to change his bike, while Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) sped off in pursuit of Aru and Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) and asked (told?) them to wait in view of Froome's mechanical.

Cue intense debate about the etiquette of Grand Tour racing: should Aru have been expected to wait? Wasn't the race 'on' at that point - the hardest climb of the hardest stage of the entire race? There seemed to be no suggestion of waiting for Froome on Stage 15 when he suffered another mechanical as AG2R-La Mondiale set a fierce pace at the front.

For entertainment value alone it would have been an excellent thing for Aru to steal a few seconds on Mont du Chat. It would surely not have been a decisive attack in GC, as Froome was soon back on his bike, and he would almost certainly have gained time on the long descent into Chambéry. Were fans denied an even more thrilling finale to a gripping stage? The discussion over this area of cycling ethics will rumble on.

Stage 9: Porte crashes out

Thanks to Richie Porte, that large group of favourites came back together to descend Mont du Chat before a sickening crash for the man himself. Cycling fans around the world prayed he wasn't too seriously hurt. Thankfully BMC Racing Team's GC contender did get off relatively lightly in view of such a high-speed, high-impact crash: a broken pelvis and broken collarbone may only keep him off the bike for a few more weeks.

Was Stage 9 too demanding? It was clearly designed to push the riders to their limit. Some argued it went too far - as well as Porte's crash Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) abandoned with a broken collarbone and Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe) abandoned on the rest day. There were 11 fallers in total - Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates) suffered a shoulder dislocation and punctured lung, Robert Gesink (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) broke a vertebra and Jesús Herrada (Movistar Team) dislocated his knee cap.

Some of these accidents may have been nothing directly to do with the demanding parcours, although the collective stress and nervous energy in the peloton can't have helped either.

Team Sunweb's Warren Barguil thought he had edged a stage win from Rigoberto Urán, and burst into tears when he discovered the Cannondale-Drapac rider had nicked it. But Barguil's moment would come ...

Romain Bardet, right, surges uphill to win Stage 12 (Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty)

Stage 12: Froome relinquishes yellow jersey to Aru

In Team Sky's impressive dominance of several recent Tours de France they have rarely seemed to put a foot wrong, so it was a big deal when Aru took the leader's jersey from Froome at the end of Stage 12. A draining uphill finish saw Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) win the stage while Froome fell back and lost 22 seconds to his Italian rival. 

Post-stage debate centred on Team Sky's tactics and the role of Mikel Landa, whose phenomenal climbing appeared to put his team leader Froome in the red before that final ascent to the line. TV pictures seemed to show Team Sky DS Nicolas Portal remonstrating with Landa outside the team bus after the stage, but rather like Sagan and Cavendish, they used social media to show there were no hard feelings:

The closest-ever Tour de France

Grand Tours are often billed as a potentially mouth-watering tussle between a cast of capable race winners, but they rarely turn out that way. This Tour de France has arguably delivered the most finely-balanced general classification contest in the history of the race.

While it is possible we will enjoy a 1989-style denouement, when Greg Lemond edged out Laurent Fignon in the final Paris time trial to take overall victory by just eight seconds, it will require one of Froome's rivals to land some punches in the mountains this week.

While Froome may not be as dominant as in past editions there is clearly very little wrong with his form - as his amazing recovery from 50 seconds down on Sunday's Stage 15 shows. Froome is already anticipating Saturday's 22.5km time trial in Marseille as the day he strikes the decisive blow and wraps up a fourth Tour win. Aru, Bardet and Rigoberto Uran may just have something to say about that.

If the general classification is still so close after Saturday's time trial, what will happen on Sunday's traditionally ceremonial roll into Paris? Will the GC contenders race for the win? Tradition dictates they should not, but cycling fans would surely want to see a proper contest. Now that would be a big talking point.

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