His Olympic fate might be hanging in the balance – along with every other Russian athlete – but Ilnur Zakarin did not let that ongoing uncertainty cloud his Tour de France performance as he claimed his maiden victory on a punishing stage 17 from the Swiss capital of Bern to Finhaut-Emosson on Wednesday (20 July).
The Team Katusha rider formed part of a breakaway group in the Alps before attacking King of the Mountains leader Rafal Majka and stage 15 winner Jarlinson Pantano with around 6km left to go of a gruelling final climb, producing a strong but exhausting solo ascent to the finish. It was a real moment of triumph for Zakarin, who broke his collarbone during a scary crash while descending the Colle dell'Agnello during stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia in May.
At the top of the general classification, Yellow Jersey holder Chris Froome rode brilliantly once again and continued his control of the race by gaining time on all of his trailing rivals in Bauke Mollema, Adam Yates and the disappointing Nairo Quintana.
Team Sky's dominant two-time Tour winner, who followed Richie Porte on a late charge to leave his competitors behind, now looks increasingly likely to defend his crown by extending that overall advantage to two minutes and 27 seconds.
The chances of Froome's lead now being overhauled seem very remote with just four stages of the race – three of which are also in the Alps – remaining. Returning to France, Thursday's challenge is a difficult individual mountain time trial beginning in Sallanches and ending 17km later in Megeve.
The climbing then continues unabated for two more days before the usual sprint finish from Chantily to Paris. World champion Peter Sagan has all but wrapped up his fifth consecutive green jersey success and will not face any late challenge from Mark Cavendish down the Champs-Elysees after the latter withdrew from the race in order to focus on preparations for next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.