It was a fantastic 4th for George Bennett as LottoNL-Jumbo had two reasons to smile. Bennett moved up in the general classification, having been in the break from the start. But the day’s honours belonged to his teammate Robert Gesink, who celebrated the stage win in after a day full of tactical activity.
A day in France greeted the field in stage 14 and make no mistake, the result today would be one of the crucial results of the day. The 196km stage from Urdatx-Dantxarinea to the Col d’Aubisque would take in four climbs over the course of the day. The Col Inharpu, the Col du Soudet and the Col de Marie-Blanque would also all feature in the day’s racing.
George Bennett’s chance
Up until now George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo had ridden reasonably conservatively but smartly in the absence of Steven Kruijswijk and in doing so had positioned himself handily in 18th place overall, 7.53mins behind race leader Nairo Quintana. But today was his day to attack, and attack he did. In fact several riders attacked the peloton and succeeded in making their way into the breakaway. Movistar had an impressive list of riders in the move with Jose Joaquin Rojas joining Ruben Fernandez and 12th placed on GC Daniel Moreno; this took the edge off of their chase effort, forcing Sky to lead the pack.
Orica-BikeExchange had three riders in Magnus Cort Nielsen, stage 12 winner Jens Keukeleire. George Bennett’s company consisted of teammates Robert Gesink and Victor Campeanaerts. Elsewhere there were numbers for Trek-Segafredo with Haimar Zubeldia and Julien Bernard, Katusha had Bart de Clerq and Sander Armée, Cannondale-Drapac had Pierre Rolland and Davide Vellella. There were more numbers for Mathias Frank and Larry Warbasseof IAM Cycling, Romain Hardy and Rudy Molard of Cofidis, Pello Bilbao and Sergio Pardilla of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, Romain Sicard and Perrig Quemeneur of Direct Energie.
The day was a fine one, and so was the composition of the breakaway. There was strength and numbers a plenty, with many candidates for the stage win including Bennett. All in all some 35 riders made up the move that took off, leaving Movistar very happy to let Team Sky lead the chase. Although Team Sky had one rider in the move, the pressure was very much on them to make the chase. After 53km the gap was a healthy 4.15mins to Team Sky, but crucially for Bennett it was increasing.
Orica-BikeExchange make intentions clear
Gradually Team Sky closed the gap, but they hadn’t counted on Orica-BikeExchange pushing the pace in the breakaway. Magnus Cort Nielsen and Simon Gerrans in particular really pushed the pace and drew out the break’s advantage to 6.15mins with 47km of racing to go. Their work also ensured that several riders would drop off the pace during the course of the day, meaning that by the time the break reached the bottom of the penultimate climb of the Col de Marie-Blanque they had a still-large breakaway group but a gradually fragmenting one. Orica-BikeExchange’s work finally came to an end with Jens Keukeleire the last man standing for them in the break.
Robert Gesink took over the pace setting for the break, looking after George Bennett. With 41km left to race the gap was hovering at 5.40mins. An attack began to go up the road, and George Bennett was wise to the move from Trek-Segafredo, as was Gesink and several others. The attack ultimately came to nought but it just further stretched the break. With 40km left Jens Keukeleire dropped off the pace, following the likes of Gianni Meersman, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Sander Armee of Lotto Soudal and more.
Simon Yates fires up
But if you thought you’d seen everything from Orica-BikeExchange nothing could be further from the truth as Jack Haig attacked out of the peloton and then was joined by none other than stage 6 winner Simon Yates who was sitting seventh overall. Yates and Haig quickly built a 25 second lead ahead of Team Sky’s peloton; with the boys in black still very much under pressure to chase; playing into the hands of Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Tinkoff.
The gap was growing between Yates & Haig and the peloton, sitting at 45 seconds as the leaders crested the summit of the climb. But the gap for the break was also still holding at a very healthy 5.40mins. Haig finally relented, his work done, leaving Simon Yates to keep up the work alone. He still had 53 seconds in hand on the peloton but had a little way to go before he reached the summit of the climb.
George Bennett attacks
Simon Yates reached the summit of the climb 1.02mins ahead of the peloton but just in time to catch teammates Jens Keukeleire and Simon Gerrans. The trio immediately threw themselves into the descent while the breakaway began to break up. With 32.7km left to race the gap for the break was sitting at 5.28mins to the Froome and Quintana group, 4.14mins to Yates and co, and 18 seconds to half of what was the breakaway before. A small handful of riders attacked the larger breakaway group and George Bennett was in it.
The Bennett group also had Jan Bakelants of AG2R La Mondiale, Kenny Elissonde of FDJ, Egor Silin of Katusha, Julien Bernard of Trek-Segafredo and Bart de Clerq of Lotto Soudal in the move. Crucially for them the gap was growing to the rest of the break, with a 25 second lead to the rest with 27km left to race. Simon Yates was also enjoying growing daylight to the peloton with 1.25mins in hand on the bunch now.
Movistar and Tinkoff lend support too late?
Finally Team Sky began to receive support in the chase, as Tinkoff and Movistar lent their support to the front of the bunch, with the gap still a very healthy 5.30mins for the break with 21km left to race. The Bennett group were still leading the race and their lead to the former breakaway members was now at 50 seconds. That lead dropped as the six leaders hit the lower slopes of the final climb of the day, 16.5km of climbing up the Col d’Aubisque with an average gradient of 7.1%.
With 15km to go the gap was now 4.49mins between Bennett’s group and the peloton. The remainders of the break were sitting 14 seconds down, with Simon Yates in the company of Simon Gerrans 3.21mins back. Gerrans quickly dropped off, leaving Yates to go it alone. Up ahead the first attack came from the Bennett group, with Egor Silin and Jan Bakelants attacking. Bart de Clerq led the chase but the pair had a little bit of daylight to play with.
The momentum in the peloton now changed completely as Movistar now entered centre stage for the pack. Meanwhile Silin and Bakelants were brought back by the Bennett and co as with just under 13km to go the gap was 32 seconds to the remnants of the break. Simon Yates was not wasting any time behind them though, the Brit was 2.51mins behind the leaders but it was all about time for him, and time was something that he had; 1.22mins in fact over the peloton.
A chance for a Kiwi stage winner with 10km to go
As the metres ticked away for the field Bennett’s group were still out in front with 10km to go, with 30 seconds in hand. The 10km to go mark was the trigger for another move from Bakelants with Kenny Elissonde. After a brief delay George Bennett made a big move to chase across, dropping Bart De Clerq and putting Egor Silin under pressure. Back down the road Simon Yates was still some 1.29mins ahead of the pack and looking likely to advance into the top five if he could maintain his lead.
The leaders were 38 seconds ahead of the chasers with 9km to go although an attack had now gone up the road from Robert Gesink, an effort from him to join his Kiwi team leader. The gap to the heavily reduced peloton was coming down a bit now, with the peloton passing through the 9km to go banner 3.13 mins down on the break. Meanwhile up ahead George Bennett was about to have the company of teammate Gesink with 8km left to race. Gesink caught the break and immediately moved in front of Bennett to set the pace.
Quintana begins to take the initiative
Nairo Quintana now saw an opportunity and attacked. The move drew out a chase effort from Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Esteban Chaves and it didn’t last, quickly bringing the race leader back into the fray as Andrew Talansky made a move to try and make his way into the top ten. Despite the attacks out of the red jersey group, however, there was no catching Simon Yates for now with the gap sitting at 1.42mins.
Up the road though there was more activity for the break as Robert Gesink launched an attack of his own with 6.7km to go. The Dutchman quickly got a gap and was chased by Jan Bakelants. George Bennett was now content to let Egor Silin chase with Elissonde on Bennett’s wheel. Behind them Samuel Sanchez of BMC Racing attacked the red jersey group. He quickly gained a little advantage as up ahead Bakelants and Gesink joined forces.
Sanchez’s attack now drew Astana to the fore. They didn’t want to risk ninth place for Michele Scarponi, a position that was now under threat. For lone chaser Simon Yates though things were getting better and better as he moved into provisional fifth place on GC ahead of Alberto Contador. That would put Orica-BikeExchange 4th and 5th respectively if only Yates could hang on.
Gesink fighting to the front
Back to the leaders and Gesink and Bakelants now had a handy advantage over the chasers Bennett, Elissonde and Silin. The gap was 1.13mins with less than 5km left to race. With 4.2km left for the leaders Nairo Quintana launched another attack and this time was not immediately chased. He had a little work to do to pick up Sammy Sanchez, and a lot of work to do to catch Yates who was now picking off breakaway stragglers bit by bit. Quintana quickly built a 15 second lead over Froome; but there was drama up the road.
Kenny Elissonde wasn’t done yet, and he made a big effort to catch and pass Robert Gesink. Down the road Quintana caught Sanchez as behind them Chris Froome made a big move with Alberto Contador and Esteban Chaves in tow; the chase nullified the Quintana move with the leaders now just 3km from the finish. Next to go was Esteban Chaves who attacked after looking like he might be suffering. This time there was no chase from Quintana, Froome or Contador as up ahead it was Gesink vs Elissonde for the stage win. They were now just 48 seconds ahead of Simon Yates who was by now an outside chance at stage victory at the rate he was going.
Contador gets dropped
Next it was the turn of Alberto Contador to attack the GC group with 3km for them left to race. Quintana was wise to the move as was Chris Froome, who caught and passed Contador with Nairo Quintana seeing this as a perfect opportunity to test his rivals. It succeeded in testing Contador who dropped back, with the pace proving too much for him. Once again it was Quintana and Froome showing themselves to be the best.
Up ahead the leaders had just 2km left to race. Simon Yates was continuing to race hard and was now at the heels of Bakelants and Haimar Zubeldia of Trek-Segafredo. Meanwhile Gesink and Elissonde were still leading but behind them Egor Silin was chasing up with George Bennett not too far away either. Silin made the catch with just a kilometre left to race. Quintana and Froome were cancelling each other out while behind them Contador was with Sanchez and struggling to limit his losses.
Gesink wins the sprint, Bennett takes 4th
A three-way sprint would decide matters for the stage with Elissonde and Gesink trailing leader Silin with 500m to go. Gesink attacked and Elissonde was on his wheel with Silin hanging on. He looked to have attacked too soon, but Elissonde then started to fall back with Silin also floundering. The Dutchman grimaced and wrestled the bike all the way to the line and crossed first ahead of Elissonde and Silin. Behind them by 31 seconds was George Bennett in fourth place with Simon Yates crossing the line 39 seconds down.
From here it was a case of watching the clock. Esteban Chaves had made his move stick and he crossed the line 1.14mins back, and 35 seconds behind his teammate Yates. Froome and Quintana had picked up some stragglers and the two of them were eventually completely deadlocked in the end, with Quintana marginally better at the sprint. Contador suffered a little though, crossing the line 20 seconds further back on Quintana and Froome. That was nothing compared to the suffering of Alejandro Valverde, however, who had a day to forget losing more than 10 minutes to Gesink and dropping out of the top ten overall.
The final result in the general classification saw Quintana and Froome stable at the top of the standings, but behind them Orica-BikeExchange were now third and fourth with Chaves 2.01mins back, and Yates 2.17mins back. Leopold Konig also moved up to 5th place overall at 2.38mins. George Bennett now sits in 12th place overall 6.37mins back on Nairo Quintana.