Julian Alaphilippe has his second stage victory of the 2018 Tour de France and a more secure grip on the king of the mountains classification. Gorka Izagirre of Bahrain Merida took second place, while Adam Yates – who was phenomenally unlucky to crash on the final descent while leading – placed third.
The longest remaining stage of the Tour de France, and one of only two stages that tops 200km in the final week, stage 16 from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon would see the teeth of the stage packed into the final 72.5km of the 218km stage, with a category 2 climb followed by 2 category 1 climbs in reasonably quick succession.
Tear gas trouble effects riders
A number of points made today’s stage particularly notable. Firstly was the farmers’ protest that was launched very early on in the stage. 31km into the stage the race was neutralised and brought to a standstill when straw bales blocked the race as a farmers’ protest was being launched. Police used tear gas to quell the protests, but many riders were impacted by the spray and had to apply water to the eyes to deal with the irritation.
Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Peter Sagan, Arnaud Demare and a whole host more were all affected by the tear gas; but eventually the race was able to continue with the pain subsiding for the riders. After the race was given the go ahead to continue it appeared like all hell broke loose in a manner of speaking at the front of the race; as for almost half the race riders tried and failed to go up the road in a breakaway.
Thomas De Gendt and Alejandro Valverde were among the notable names who tried to go up the road, but with such high intensity in the race nothing was able to go clear as average speeds hit a mind boggling 48.7kph in the first hour. Finally though a breakaway did meet with the blessing of the peloton; and it was a large one with a third of the race featuring in the breakaway including Pierre Latour wearing the white jersey for AG2R La Mondiale, Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe of Quick-Step Floors, Adam Yates and Matt Hayman of Mitchelton-Scott, Damiano Caruso, Tejay van Garderen and Greg van Avermaet of BMC Racing, Robert Gesink of LottoNL-Jumbo, Marc Soler of Movistar, Warren Barguil of Fortuneo-Sasic and Domenico Pozzovivo of Bahrain Merida. All these riders featured in the group that was 47 strong in the end.
This time Peter Sagan was not in the breakaway, but with none of his closest rivals in the classification present it meant that the green jersey became the first classification to be mathematically wrapped up; subject to Sagan finishing every stage and making the time cuts.
Gilbert’s frightening crash
While the break was enormous in size, it was inevitable that much would take place amongst the move before the day was out; and Philippe Gilbert was the first major protagonist. He attacked on the climb of the Col de Portet d’Aspet and led over the summit. Back in the peloton the pace was very relaxed, with a ten minute deficit opening up to the break. However, Gilbert was then the victim of a frightening crash as he descended the climb, going over a wall and down a ravine. Thankfully the Belgian was able to climb back up and remount his bike, but his race at the front was short-lived. His crash carried a particularly poignant fear factor as it was the very same climb that saw Fabio Casartelli die on while descending in 1995.
The Col de Mente was next and this time it was Robert Gesink and Damiano Caruso who made the first attack. Warren Barguil, still determined to contest the king of the mountains classification, bridged across to the group but then struggled to hold their wheels. With the breakaway predictably fragmenting, it was Alaphilippe who would eventually lead the way over the climb, as he attacked from the chase group to join the duo and then take maximum points.
A group of 17 riders were left out in the front of the race as Jonathan Castroviejo led the pack over the summit of the Col de Mente; 11.45mins down. Team Sky had been consistent on the front all stage, but on the run in towards the Col du Portillon a changing of the guard would see Movistar take the lead in the peloton. As the 17 leaders neared the foot of the final climb their advantage was 1.30mins over a small group containing the likes of Ion Izagirre, Greg van Avermaet and Simon Geschke.
Yates suffers heartbreak on descent
Action on the Portillon once again featured Robert Gesink, who attacked in the company of Domenico Pozzovivo. Behind them Marc Soler, Adam Yates, Bauke Mollema ad Gorka Izagirre were all involved in chasing. Eventually after much to-ing and fro-ing Adam Yates emerged as the dominant force in the break, attacking with 13km left to race and distancing the rest of the riders. He established a quick 30 second advantage, while back in the peloton Jakob Fuglsang launched the first attack against Team Sky.
While Yates continued to press home his advantage, Alaphilippe made a move that was not matched and it was Britain vs France for the stage. Yates crested the summit of the climb with 20 seconds in hand over the polka dot jersey and then aggressively attacked the descent . . . . too aggressively. With his lead still slender but in tact, Yates’ wheels slipped out from under him on a corner and he came down. Alaphilippe passed him and then looked around to see where the Mitchelton-Scott rider was before continuing on.
Yates was able to remount and continue riding, but the chance of a stage win had now gone up in smoke. He was caught by Izagirre, but there was going to be no catching of Alaphilippe who took a second stage win of this year’s Tour de France. Gorka Izagirre overcame Yates for second place at 15 seconds, with Bauke Mollema fourth and Pozzovivo fifth.
Despite a late attack from Mikel Landa of Movistar, there was no trouble for Team Sky who will instead anticipate the fireworks to really kick off in tomorrow’s stage to Saint-Lary-Soulan. They crossed the finish line at 8.52mins with all the favourites in tact.
Dion Smith, Tom Scully and Jack Bauer all finished today’s stage together in a large group that contained Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan, Luke Rowe and John Degenkolb.