Jarlinson Pantano has won stage 15 of the Tour de France.  The IAM Cycling rider out-sprinted Rafal Majka, who took the consolation prize of the lead in the King of the Mountains classification.  George Bennett had said today might well suit him and he made it into the breakaway that survived much of the day’s racing.

160km greeted the riders in stage 15 of the Tour de France, which took the field from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz.  The stage was nothing short of a brute, with climbing a plenty throughout the stage.  Six climbs, two cat 1, one cat 2, two cat 3 and one HC featured on the stage before the downhill run towards the finish from 14km out.

Bennett in the big day’s break

Tsgabu Grmay of Lampre-Merida was the first attacker in the stage and his was just one of several moves that would head up the road.  Eventually a leading group solidified at the front of the race and in amongst the 30-strong move was LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett.  The Kiwi had indicated to RoadCycling on the Tour rest day that this would be a day to his liking and his inclusion in the move was a definite plus.  For the first part of the stage Bennett was content to hang back and observe what was going on in the break.

Also in the move and with teammates were Movistar’s Ion Izagirre and Nelson Oliveira, AG2R La Mondiale’s Alexis Vuillermoz and Domenico Pozzovivo, Astana’s Tanel Kangert and Vincenzo Nibali, Jarlinson Pantano and Jérôme Coppel, Dylan van Baarle, Pierre Rolland and Tom-Jelte Slagter of Cannondale-Drapac, Sébastien Reichenback and Steve Morabito of FDJ, Ilnur Zakarin and Alberto Losada of Katusha, Jan Polanc and Kristijan Durasek of Lampre-Merida, Thomas Voeckler and Romain Sicard of Direct-Energie.

The rest of the break were comprised of a number of riders riding solo for their teams: Rafal Majka of Tinkoff, Haimar Zubeldia of Trek-Segafredo, Serge Pauwels of Dimension Data, Tom Dumoulin of GIANT-Alpecin, Bartosz Huzarski of Bora-Argon18, Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx-Quick Step, Ruben Plaza of Orica-BikeExchange and Daniel Navarro of Cofidis.

In the breakaway were seven riders who had won Tour stages, and there was a lot of fire power in the move.  Sebastien Reichenbach of FDJ was highest placed on the GC with 11.41mins back on the yellow jersey of Chris Froome.  Though not a threat to Chris Froome, the fact that after 64km the break had a 6.24min lead, put Reichenbach provisionally in 11th place overall ahead of Roman Kreuziger of Tinkoff.  It would be interesting to see how much more rope the GC teams would give the break.

The attacks start early

Team Sky were leading the bunch from off, with the whole team all present and correct for Chris Froome.  They were closely marked by Trek-Segafredo, whose GC rider Bauke Mollema was now in an impressive second place overall.  Over the climb of the Col de Pisseloup Rafal Majka and Serge Pauwels attacked to take the points but then continued on to go through the intermediate sprint at the 71.5km mark.  Their brief move wasn’t threatening the break though, who were poised right behind them.

At the summit of the next category 3 climb, the Col de la Rochette, Pauwels again surged ahead to mop up maximum points, while the break’s lead continued to build and breach the 7 minute mark.  Behind them Astana and Etixx-Quick Step were paying close attention to Sky’s leadership on the front of the race, along with BMC Racing and Movistar.

With 71km left to ride Dylan van Baarle found himself on his own out ahead of the breakaway as he headed over a brief rise before the downhill section coming into the toughest climb of the day; the Grand Colombier.  After a brief flurry out on his own he was joined by two-time stage winner so far in this Tour de France, Tom Dumoulin.  Dumoulin stayed with van Baarle briefly but then attacked again with 69km to go; and tried to go solo.  His move sparked animation in the break as Vincenzo Nibali tried to bridge across to him.  All the while George Bennett continued to sit at the back of the breakaway group; not panicking or letting enthusiasm get the better of him.

With 67km to go the break’s lead was a handy 7.20mins over the peloton; and it began to look like someone from the break might have a chance at staying clear at least; it was just a question of who.  Dumoulin hadn’t been caught and was plummeting down the uncategorised climb on his own while Nibali had company in the form of Domenico Pozzovivo and Jarlinson Pantano.  They were some 20 seconds adrift of Dumoulin; with the rest of the break a little way back on them.  As the leaders pressed on their lead on the Sky-led bunch went up and over 8 minutes.

Breaking up on Grand Colombier

Dumoulin sat up and let the three chasers catch him and together they hit the lower slopes of the Grand Colombier together.  Behind them though Rafal Majka wasn’t done, and he bridged across with Pauwels, Ilnur Zakarin, Alexis Vuillermoz, Sebastien Reichenbach, Kristijan Durasek,   After Navarro put in a number of efforts to accelerate onwards, Nibali found himself shaken off with Dumoulin; while Pozzovivo and Pantano were able to hold on.  Meanwhile Bennett also found himself fighting to regain contact with the leaders after being caught out in a trailing group.

An acceleration by Ilnur Zakarin drew out just Rafal Majka and the pair of them established a 35 second lead on the rest with 50km remaining.  Bennett found himself in a group of three behind the first chase group on the road.  For company he had Haimar Zubeldia and Pierre Rolland and they were a further 13 seconds back.  Back in the peloton Astana picked up the pace and put Warren Barguil in particular under pressure.

Meanwhile Rafal Majka affirmed his status as King of the Mountains with top honours at the summit, with Zakarin second.  Behind them Julian Alaphilippe and Pantano caught up with the two leaders to give us a quartet up ahead.  The peloton came over the summit of the Colombier with Astana now firmly in control of the pack and looking to put the rest of the GC contenders under pressure.

The descent saw Alaphilippe surge ahead but then find himself on the deck after a crash but he was quickly back up again, but behind Rafal Majka and Jarlinson Pantano who now took the lead.  With 22km remaining Majka and Pantano still had 7 minutes in hand on the peloton and a good gap on the remnants of the breakaway.  Behind them Fabio Aru attacked out of the peloton and was pursued by Alejandro Valverde.

Meanwhile Ilnur Zakarin, who would’ve been fancied to do well on the final climb, was hampered by a puncture, leaving Sebastien Reichenbach and Alexis Vuillermoz to chase.  On the final climb of Lacets du Grand Colombier Majka attacked once more to take maximum points and cement his polka dot jersey lead.  His advantage over Pantano though, who’d fallen back to Reichenbach was only 20 seconds though.

Two-up team time trial

That evaporated as they tackled the descent, with Pantano pulling away from the other two and catching Majka with 8.5km to go.  Together the pair of them embarked on a two-up team time trial to stay away from Vuillermoz and Reichenbach.  Back in the bunch the action kicked up a little, but not what we might have predicted.  It was not Quintana attacking the bunch, but Romain Bardet.  The AG2R La Mondiale rider attacked shortly after Fabio Aru had been brought back.  His move shook Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing off the back, but didn’t shake Team Sky who patiently bided their time to bring him back.

After catching Bardet Team Sky continued to monitor things in the bunch successfully, and after cresting the summit they knew that their job was done short of a descent attack from Quintana, Yates or Mollema.  That didn’t eventuate though and the GC group were free to negotiate the descent and head into Culoz safely.  Up ahead though it was a tense affair as Rafal Majka and Jarlinson Pantano desperately tried to line up a stage win, while not being caught by the chasers.  They managed to resist, and after Rafal Majka led out the sprint it was Pantano who managed to come past to secure his first ever Tour de France stage win.

Vuillermoz and Reichenbach crossed the line 6 seconds later, with Julian Alaphilippe completing the top 5.  The Froome group arrived home 3 minutes behind Pantano, with Wout Poels leading his Sky team leader home, with Quintana and Valverde right behind him.  After being caught by the bunch, George Bennett crossed the line in 40th place after being in the break for the majority of the stage.


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