Stage 14 Recap - A day of two races, both fascinating and compelling in equal measure. The stage started with echelons that split the field apart early into four groups and at one point things looked dicey for Mikel Landa especially, but the field eventually came back. By this point, a huge group had gone from the leading contenders, and once the 32 were away, Sky sat at the front of the race and the break was soon gone.
The lead group was – take a breath with me now - Tom-Jelte Slagter and Julien Vermote (both Dimension Data); Pierre Rolland and Daniel Martínez (both Education First-Drapac); Michael Hepburn and Daryl Impey (both Mitchelton-Scott); Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert (both Quick Step); Anthony Turgis, Anthony Perez, Christophe Laporte and Nicolas Edet (all Cofidis); Jasper Stuyven and Michael Gogl (both Trek-Segafredo); Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Jumbo) Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar (both Bora-Hansgrohe); Greg Van Avermaet, Damiano Caruso and Stefan Küng (all BMC); Lilian Calmejane, Thomas Boudat, Damien Gaudin, Jérôme Cousin and Sylvain Chavanel (all Direct Énergie), and then last but never least, Gorka Izagirre and Kristijan Koren (Bahrain-Merida).
They were let go whilst the general classification contenders soft pedalled and by the time that over Gorka Izagirre attacked over the top of the Croix de Berthel, 59km from the finish, there was over 11 minutes back to the field.
He was joined on the descent by Stuyven and Slagter, and the trip quickly opened a gap on the rest of the break that was a minute and more. They quickly started to attack eachother too frequently however and when Izagirre was berating Slagter for not working Stuyven went on the unclassified climb and the Belgian was quickly in his own race for glory.
There was a battle on for the break to pull him back before the final climb – that of the Côte de la Croix Neuve, 3km at 10.2% - but disorganisation meant that Styuven had 1:45 before he hit the final climb.
The Trek man paced his effort with aplomb, in behind there were climbers a plenty and two of them struck out after early attacks. Omar Fraile (Astana) attacked early and timed his challenge just right as he caught Stuyven with just 500 metres of the climb to go and opened up a six-second gap on him and Alaphilippe, who had attacked later and flew up the climb, but too late as Fraile took a first Tour stage win.
Behind the GC contenders hit the Côte de la Croix Neuve and fans were treated to nine minutes of all-out racing. Dan Martin was the loser – he punctured as the pace was high and would lose over a minute. The pace was very high thanks to the white jersey Pierre Latour and after only a few hundred meters the group was down to just 15 riders before Mikel Landa attempted to launch an attack.
Several riders were beginning to struggle but then Primoz Roglic went with 2.9km to go and he forced a chase from Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski which led to single figures in the group.
Everyone began to struggle in behind and at times all of Romain Bardet, Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana were in trouble. Thomas, Froome and Dumoulin came across the line together but there were gaps, as follows:
Roglic – First GC contender over the line
- Thomas, Froome, Dumoulin +8"
-- Nairo Quintana +19"
---- Kruijswijk, Bernal, Bardet +22"
------ Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde, +36"
Stage 15: Millau to Carcassonne, 181.5km
Another classic for the break. A see-saw beginning sees the riders start uphill and then tackle the Côte de Luzençon (3.1km at 5.9%) after just 6 kilometres and there’s no actual flat roads until 26 kilometres have been raced. Things calm down until the Col de Sié (10.2km at 4.9%) which is harder at the beginning than the end. It’s a chance for climbers to put on some moderate pressure depending on who’s in the escape.
There are 20 kilometres of rolling downhills leading into the last climb of the day and the only category 1, the Pic de Noire, which is 6.3% for 12.3km. The first seven kilometres are much harder than the last five, with an average of about 7-8% compared to 4/5%.
The descent goes via Cabrespine and isn’t especially complicated, and then we have a fast run into Carcassonne. The last 5 kilometres have a few turns but they are not especially complicated and the groups ought not to be too big before false flat at the end.
This is a break all day, but how to infiltrate it is the question as the first 20 kilometres suit decent climbers before valley roads which suit roleurs; The two big climbs are decent tests, although not impossible for non-specialists to tackle and there’s a long descent too.
Add this all up and one gets Peter Sagan, making the break each day and climbing the Croix Neuve so well he finished fourth on the stage. He’d be the best from any sort of small bunch and there’s only two flat finishes left so why not?
If this is the type of rider to win then could Greg Van Avermaet go again? BMC still want that stage win and he climbed brilliantly through the Alps to boot.
Astana won yesterday with Fraile and perhaps Michael Valgren is one for today – he has the strength to get away early and also has been strong on the climbs when in the break during the Tour.
Direct Energie had five of their seven riders in the break yesterday and will be at it again - Lilian Calmejane didn’t have the legs but eighth was a fair effort and perhaps this suits him a bit more. He packs a sprint and might have help from Thomas Boudat, Damien Gaudin, Jérôme Cousin and Sylvain Chavanel.
Nicolas Edet rode a bold race for Cofidis yesterday who also had Anthony Turgis, Anthony Perez, and Christophe Laporte. Edet seems to the most suited to today as he can climb although one will need a sprint if there’s a small group and Dani Navarro won’t be suited by that.
Bahrain-Merida are not only trying for a stage win but the team classification so having a rider upfront would be useful maybe Ion can be the rider to make the escape today. Mitchelton's Adam Yates lost more time yet again yesterday – although he could wait until the third week.