Warren Barguil appeared the most surprised of anyone that he’d won his second stage of the Tour de France on the Col d’Izoard.  The king of the mountains won an electric final mountain stage ahead of Darwin Atapuma and Romain Bardet who closed the gap to Chris Froome by just 4 seconds.

The final test in the mountains saw the remaining 169 riders tackle the 179.5km between Briancon and Izoard.  The stage featured three climbs and included the summit finish up the Col d’Izoard which was expected to be the scene of high drama towards the end of the day in the battle for the yellow jersey.

 

Massive breakaway group as Dion Smith goes for sprint points

 

Attacks went from the gun and with Team Sky content with the composition of the breakaway it didn’t take long for the break to build a serious advantage inside the first 45km of racing.  In fact all in all a group of 54 riders managed to form at the front of the race including Jan Bakelants of AG2R La Mondiale, Carlos Betancur of Movistar, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Nicolas Roche of BMC Racing, four riders from Astana, Ben Swift of UAE Team Emirates, Stephen Cummings and Serge Pauwels of Dimension Data, Zdenek Stybar of Quick-Step Floors, Tiago Machado of Katusha-Alpecin, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Simon Geschke of Team Sunweb, Thomas Voeckler of Direct Energie, Pierre Rolland of Cannondale-Drapac, and Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert.

It was awesome to see Dion Smith make the break of the day, and in a group that was allowed plenty of freedom to build a substantial lead over the peloton.  With the highest ranked rider in the break being Fortuneo-Oscaro’s Brice Feillu in 16th place at 33.32mins, Team Sky had it pretty easy on the front of the peloton, allowing the break to build a lead of 4.50mins with 130km remaining.

The category 3 climb saw the break split a little, with a small handful of riders enjoy a 30 second advantage over the rest of the breakaway.  Meanwhile the peloton were some distance back and in no hurry to chase as Team Sky led the peloton through 100km to go with the gap climbing to upwards of 7 minutes.  The intermediate sprint arrived at the 87km mark, and Dion Smith was very much interested in mopping up whatever points he could.  Thomas De Gendt led out the sprint with Dion Smith sitting second wheel.  But it was Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain-Merida who was fastest of the break, taking maximum points and with it third place overall in the points classification; with Thomas De Gendt second and Dion Smith third.

 

Team Sky in firm control

 

Back in the peloton Team Sky continued to lead the peloton with the break 8.10mins up the road.  Cannondale-Drapac had positioned themselves well on the back of Team Sky’s train.  Patrick Bevin was part of that train, and today would be all about working for Rigoberto Uran.  From here attention turned to the climb of the Col de Vars; the first major obstacle of the stage.

The approach towards the climb saw action in the breakaway, with the composition of the break almost splitting perfectly in half.  25 riders broke away from the rest of the break, with Dion Smith not joining the front runners.  He would move up significantly in the points classification though, and teammate Marco Minnaard was one of the riders able to remain in the front of the race.  Roche had made the front group, so too Pauwels, Voeckler and teammate Sylvain Chavanel, Simon Clarke and Andrew Talansky of Cannondale-Drapac, Darwin Atapuma of UAE Team Emirates, Nicolas Edet of Cofidis and the colourful Andrei Grivko of Astana.

As the leaders hit the lower slopes of the Col de Vars Bora-Hansgrohe lent their support to Team Sky in a bid to limit the break’s lead and the threat it posed to their rider in the general classification, Emanuel Buchmann.  With 7km of climbing still to go the gap to the peloton had decreased to just under 7 minutes.  But from there the gap stabilised and even increased again to 7.18mins as the bunch hit the climb.  The breakaway remained together for the most part although riders were suffering and dropping back.  The crucial move on the climb came with about 1.5km to go to the summit as Romain Sicard of Direct Energie took off alongside Alexey Lutsenko.  They were pursued by Tony Gallopin of Lotto Soudal and Darwin Atapuma as behind them AG2R La Mondiale moved their troops to the front to take over the pace setting in the front of the peloton.

Romain Bardet threw everything at Chris Froome, but Team Sky were just too good. Bardet in the end could only take four seconds in time bonuses out of Froome’s lead, photo Sirotti
Cooperation struggles in breakaway

 

At the top of the climb the four riders had a gap and crested the top of the climb with a reasonable lead over the rest of the break.  Lutsenko took maximum points ahead of Gallopin and Atapuma with Sicard fourth.  The result meant that mathematically there was no way Warren Barguil could be caught in the hunt for the polka dot jersey; all he needed to do was make it to Paris.

Back in the bunch AG2R La Mondiale’s pace setting was seeing several riders drop off the back of the bunch.   They had six riders on the front of the peloton looking to make the race hard and challenge Team Sky, who for now slotted in behind them.  The French team crested the summit of the Col de Vars 6.30mins adrift.

So with 30km of racing remaining the stage had four leaders in Gallopin, Lutsenko, Atapuma and Sicard who was some 30 seconds ahead of the next group on the road as they negotiated the brief flat section of road before the ramp began towards the final major climb of the Tour de France.  Chris Froome and Team Sky were comfortable to follow the wheels of AG2R La Mondiale.  At the front of the race the chase group of four riders behind the leaders bridged across with Nicolas Edet and Daniel Navarro of Cofidis, Tsgabu Grmay Bahrain-Merida and Romain Hardy of Fortuneo  Oscaro joining the front.  The group was bolstered by the addition of Rudy Mollard of FDJ and Diego Ulissi of UAE Team Emirates at 25km to go, with a 5.49min advantage to the yellow jersey group.

 

Lutsenko takes initiative as AG2R push the tempo

 

The leaders were struggling though to cooperate and Alexey Lutsenko, Romain Hardy and Nicolas Edet decided to press on, much to the vocal annoyance of Tony Gallopin.  The first big chase group on the road was being led by Stephen Cummings at 1.18mins back, while still the peloton were 5 minutes in arrears.

With 20km to go the lead group had again changed formation, with Lutsenko and Edet breaking away to lead with 6km to go to the base of the climb.  But even then the pair were not cooperating.  Nicolas Edet was not prepared to work with Lutsenko with teammate Navarro back in the chase group.  Likewise Navarro wasn’t prepared to chase the leaders for the same reason.  Lutsenko resigned himself to leading therefore, and eventually the Astana rider put distance between himself and Edet to lead alone on the base of the final climb.

The peloton behind the break were fracturing at a rapid rate as AG2R La Mondiale continued to set  the pace, with a deficit of 4 minutes at the bottom of the climb.  They hadn’t shaken Team Sky yet though, neither had they rid themselves of Rigoberto Uran, Fabio Aru or any of the other big name GC contenders.  

With 12km remaining Darwin Atapuma attacked to bridge across to Lutsenko, with Daniel Navarro responding to the attack.  Tony Gallopin was able to bridge across to the two riders, meanwhile AG2R La Mondiale began to lose riders, as did Team Sky and Astana in the GC group with domestiques finding themselves spent for energy on the last big mountain challenge.  But up ahead it was still Alexey Lutsenko who led with 3.33mins in hand over the Froome group, and 44 seconds to the nearest chasers.  His lead was extending over the chasers but for how long?

 

Atapuma takes over lead as Barguil attacks GC rivals

 

Atapuma was the next to make a move with just under 9km left to race.  The Colombian’s acceleration saw Daniel Navarro and Tony Gallopin not able to keep pace, and so it was Lutsenko vs Atapuma with less than 8km to go.  The worst of the climb was still ahead with the final 7km seeing the gradient ramp up to 10% and higher in places.  Lutsenko was now struggling to hold Atapuma at bay, with the Colombian closing the gap to less than 20 seconds.

As Atapuma made the catch with about 6.5km to go AG2R La Mondiale’s pace setting finally looked to have paid off behind them as Daniel Martin, Louis Meintjes, Simon Yates and Fabio Aru all began to drop back.  But as that happened Bardet’s last support rider – Jan Bakelants – dropped back.  That seemed to bring about a brief lull in the pace as Team Sky recognised that everything was going according to play so far.  

Atapuma was now leading the race and distancing Lutsenko, while back in the yellow jersey group it was Warren Barguil and Alberto Contador who launched the first attack.  With Team Sky now back on the front Aru, Martin, Meintjes and Yates were able to get back on board.  Their gap to the leaders was now 1.54mins with 5.7km remaining.  Ahead of the GC group Barguil was showing that he was stronger than Contador, and the polka dot jersey continued to charge forwards.

 

Aru struggles as attacks fly

 

5km from the line Atapuma had 1.43mins in hand on the Froome group, 20 seconds on Lutsenko, 30 seconds on Gallopin and 1.14mins on a rapid Barguil.  The next attack to go up the road came from Daniel Martin of Quick-Step Floors.  The Irishman was 2.37mins adrift of Froome, but only 1.43mins behind Fabio Aru.  The Irishman’s acceleration had the Italian on the ropes, but Team Sky brought him back quickly as they continued to mop up remnants of the breakaway.

With Aru struggling again Mikel Landa was the next to attack, the last man for Team Sky besides Froome; and with Froome not prepared to chase, Landa went up the road in pursuit of a potential podium position.  It was Daniel Martin who now took up the chase.  Landa was 1.24mins behind Froome, but just 57 seconds behind a podium spot.  All the action behind Atapuma now saw Barguil trailing by just 31 seconds, with Landa at 50 seconds, Froome and co at 1.02mins and Fabio Aru at 1.14mins.

Next to attack was Louis Meintjes, with the South African looking to hurt Simon Yates, but the best young rider was all in control at this stage.  The yellow jersey group had now been reduced to just a small handful of riders; Chris Froome, Daniel Martin, Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Uran, Louis Meintjes, Simon Yates, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana.  With 3km to go Romain Bardet then launched an attack and this time it was just Froome and Uran who were able to respond as tey leapt over to Tony Gallopin.

Rigoberto Uran lost a small amount of time to Romain Bardet, but he’ll likely be confident of making that up in the individual time trial, photo Sirotti
Froome tests rivals as Barguil hits for home

 

Then it was the turn of the yellow jersey.  Chris Froome launched a piercin gattack with some 2.5km to go and this time as he went through the brief downhill Uran and Bardet lost a bit of space.  Uran led the chase back to Froome and the three riders now came across to Mikel Landa.  They now had Warren Barguil in their sights, with the polka dot jersey catching Atapuma with 1.5km to go.  Their lead over the yellow jersey was just a slender 28 seconds though.

Atapuma was able to keep the pace with Warren Barguil as the pair headed towards 1km to go.  Finally as the pair went underneath the 1km to go banner Barguil dropped Atapuma, and made one last gasp to gain the stage.  Behind him Mikel Landa, Chris Froome, Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet continued on in hot pursuit.

With 500m to go Warren Barguil was still leading but it was going to be close as Landa led the next four on the road.  Bardet launched a last ditch attack with about 500m left to race.  No one could get Bardet though, who raised his arms to the sky in disbelief as he took his second stage win of the Tour de France.  Atapuma to his credit held on for second just ahead of Bardet, Froome and Uran who lost 2 seconds to Bardet.  Mikel Landa was next across the line 32 seconds behind Barguil and 12 behind Froome, Bardet and Atapuma.  Louis Meintjes finished 7th at 37 seconds, with Daniel Martin at 39 seconds, Simon Yates at 59 seconds and Alberto Contador completing the top ten at 1.09mins.

The result meant that overall Chris Froome lost 4 seconds to Romain Bardet but held on to a 23 second time gap overall, with Rigoberto Uran now third at 29 seconds.  Mikel Landa moved up a place to 4th at 1.36mins, with Fabio Aru 5th at 1.55mins.  Daniel Martin was 1.10mins behind Aru in 6th, while Simon Yates still held more than 2 minutes in hand on Louis Meintjes in 7th.  Warren Barguil’s efforts saw him climb another place to 9th overall, overtaking Alberto Contador who now sat 10th overall.

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