Edvald Boasson Hagen has won stage 19 of the Tour de France. The Dimension Data rider attacked in the closing kilometres to take the stage and redeem the Tour de France for Dimension Data who suffered the early setback of losing Mark Cavendish. Nikias Arndt took second place with Jens Keukeleire third.
‘Rest day’ or sprint day?
A couple of questions hung over stage 19 of the Tour de France, the longest of the race. At 222.5km long it was always going to be a long day in the saddle, but with a lot of rolling roads for the first 177.5km the stage was really hard to predict. A breakaway would undoubtedly attack the stage, but would they enjoy freedom given them by a peloton who were happy to simply take a back seat and enjoy an unofficial ‘rest day’? Or would the sprint teams be keen to ramp up the pace to give an opportunity to one of the many sprinters who had been unable to take a win so far?
The inevitable breakaway went clear after 35km of racing, and it was a large break. The 20-man group featured Jan Bakelants of AG2R La Mondiale, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Ben Swift of UAE Team Emirates, Michael Albasini and Jens Keukeleire of Orica-SCOTT, Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data, Gianluca Brambilla of Quick-Step Floors, Lilian Calmejane and Sylvain Chavanel of Direct Energie, and Tony Gallopin and of course Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal. All in all the 20-strong group which also included riders from Movistar, FDJ, Katusha-Alpecin, Team Sunweb, Cofidis and Fortuneo-Oscaro was a strong one and they quickly built up a 3 minute lead after 40km of racing.
Bauke Mollema was the highest place in the general classification out of the breakaway riders, starting the day at 20th overall, but a massive 47.03mins behind Chris Froome. Team Sky were clearly happy with the composition of the break because the gap was allowed to expand to 5.10mins after 43km of racing and eventually to an impressive 8.40mins or so. After the gap dropped by about a minute it increased back up to that 8.40min deficit, with Team Sky leading the peloton but showing no interest in pegging back the break.
Attacks start on final climb
The pace in the break was steady, with good cooperation among the riders. Direct Energie and Fortuneo-Oscaro benefitted from numbers in the break, and they looked to exploit that on the final category 3 climb of the day up the Col du Pointu. Attacks began to fly from the breakaway, with a number of riders clearly not keen on allowing the large breakaway to remain together, with the likes of Edvald Boasson Hagen known for their sprint prowess. The most promising attack came just over 2km from the summit of the climb. Robert Kiserlovski of Katusha-Alpecin, Romain Sicard of Direct Energie and Elie Gesbert of Fortuneo-Oscaro gapped the rest of the break and broke free. But the pursuit was on from behind them, with Edvald Boasson Hagen among those most prominent in trying to bring back the trio.
Nearing the top of the climb the three riders had just about 9 seconds in hand, a gap which would never be enough given the muscle in the chase group behind them. With 44.5km left to race Thomas De Gendt led the rest of the break back across to rejoin the three leaders. Tony Gallopin had been shaken off, and he was one of the danger men for the stage. Gallopin found himself only some 50-100m away from the leaders over the top of the climb, but an acceleration from Bauke Mollema threatened to drop him permanently. Eventually though Mollema too was brought back.
All the while Team Sky continued to lead the peloton with AG2R La Mondiale on their wheel, and Cannondale-Drapac on theirs. It was clear that today was the day that the bunch were going to let the break finally have their day on a non-mountain stage.
Break fractures as kilometres tick by
With 41km to go the gap was up to 9 minutes. 10km later and with the break still all together the gap was increasing up towards the 10 minute margin and it was now about how the break would go about contesting the win. Would a rider go for a long range attack or would it come down to a group sprint finish? If the latter then surely Michael Albasini and Edvald Boasson Hagen would be favourites to take the honours.
At 20km to go the breakaway group were still completely in tact and the question of who could come away with the win was still very much up in the air. No one had made a dig for victory just yet, and with the run in to the line completely flat and then downhill in the finale it was looking more and more like a sprint would decide matters. Jens Keukeleire was the first to challenge that though, and his acceleration – while unsuccessful in dropping the rest of the break – did put a number of riders under pressure and eventually a split formed.
The front group saw a group of nine riders get away from the rest, with a gap of 15 seconds quickly forming to the chase group behind them. In the group of nine riders were Michael Albasini and Jens Keukeleire, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas De Gendt, Daniele Bennati of Movistar, Sylvain Chavanel, Elie Gesbert, Jan Bakelants and Nikias Arndt of Team Sunweb. With 13km to go the leaders had a gap of 17 seconds and it was increasing, rapidly going over 20 seconds and up towards 30 in what was set to be the winning move. They were keeping a rapid tempo too, hitting 60kph in places.
Boasson Hagen times attack perfectly
Behind them the gap looked to have been taken out of the sails of the rest of the break as they now faced up to the reality of not contesting the win. But for the riders in the second group from Fortuneo-Oscaro, Direct Energie and Lotto Soudal there was no need to chase as their teammates were all in the lead group. But even now the leaders were not content to arrive together and Edvald Boasson Hagen and Michael Albasini put in a little attack to see what else they could do. Jan Bakelants wasn’t going to let them go clear though and with 7km the nine riders were still together.
With 5.5km to go Sylvain Chavanel was the next to go on the attack but he too was unable to get a gap. Next to go was Gesbert, but this time Keukeleire brought him back. With 5km to go Albasini then made a move, with Boasson Hagen and Chavanel going with him. The move put a lot of pressure on the rest of the group but still the nine riders were together as De Gendt hit the front with 4km to go. Next Keukeleire put in a little dig, but still nothing was given as they went through 3km to go.
The roundabout inside of 3km to go saw Edvald Boasson Hagen and Nikias Arndt take the right line and distance the rest of the break. But Arndt didn’t have the legs to go with Boasson Hagen, and this time it finally looked like the Norwegian had done enough to distance the rest of the group. At long last, after coming so close Boasson Hagen was going to win a stage of this year’s Tour de France. It was a masterstroke from the duo, as the rest of the break had gone the longer way around the roundabout, and were simply caught out by two riders who had done their course recon just a little bit better. Nikias Arndt was still ahead of the rest of the chasers but still a little way behind Boasson Hagen who was now in time trial mode.
Norwegian wins, Sky keep powder dry for TT
The Dimension Data rider rounded the final corners and with 400m to go was able to finally see the finish line. A shake of the head in disbelief and finally he was able to punch the air after 5 hours of racing, the winner of the stage ahead of Nikias Arndt. The sprint for third place saw Jens Keukeleire take third place across the line ahead of Daniele Bennati and Thomas De Gendt; with Sylvain Chavanel taking sixth ahead of Gesbert, Bakelants, Albasini and then Pierre Luc Perichon of Fortuneo-Oscaro who completed the top ten.
Team Sky, who had led the peloton through the stage all the way thus far, continued to do so on the run in to the finish, the field having been free to enjoy a day of comparative relaxation on the longest day of racing. The GC battle would flare up one more time tomorrow as the riders took on the final individual time trial, but now teammates and rivals were content to roll home together in a procession more than 12 minutes behind Boasson Hagen.