Thomas De Gendt paid tribute to Stig Broeckx as he won the stage to Mont Ventoux and took the polka dot jersey. But the story of the day was the drama down the mountain as Chris Froome found himself running up the mountain, without a bike, as he spectacularly lost his overall lead.
The stage was meant to be one of the most defining of the Tour de France, and it may yet still prove to be just that; despite the fact that 6km of Mont Ventoux had been cut off of the stage. With winds exceeding 100kph, the open, rocky, barren summit of the climb would be missed; with the stage finishing 6km earlier at Chalet Reynard after 178km of racing. Nevertheless the day would still incorporate the steepest part of the Ventoux; with the lower slopes actually being the hardest.
Sprinters in the Ventoux breakaway?
Shortly after the flag had dropped on Bastille day, than a large group of riders escaped up the road with Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt and André Greipel, Etixx-Quick Step’s Iljo Keisse and Julian Alaphilippe, Cofidis’ Cyril Lemoine and Dani Navarro, LottoNL-Jumbo’s Sep Vanmarcke and Bert-Jan Lindeman, Dimension Data’s Serge Pauwels and Daniel Teklehaimanot, Direct Energie’s Sylvain Chavanel and Bryan Coquard, IAM Cycling’s Stef Clement, Etixx-Quick Step’s Iljo Keisse and Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Chris Anker Sorensen forming the leading group.
Behind them a smaller group of five formed a chase effort with Tom-Jelte Slagter of Cannondale-Drapac, Diego Rosa of Astana, Cyril Gautier of AG2R La Mondiale, Vegard Breen of Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Georg Preidler of GIANT-Alpecin and Paul Voss of Bora-Argon18. They had their work cut out though on a day where crosswinds would once again play a big role.
The peloton were initially very happy to let the advantage of the break stretch right out to 17.30mins after 56km of racing. That went out even further to 18.15mins after 61.5km as Team Sky led the way in the peloton, closely followed by BMC Racing, Cannondale and Movistar. The small group behind the break had a lot of time to make up too, with 5.50mins to bridge after 75km. Once again the crosswinds began to play games with the riders, and once again the riders were biting at the bit to get any advantage they could before the climb.
Etixx-Quick Step, Team Sky and Astana led the initial acceleration in the peloton which brought the first splits. Importantly a number of GC riders and potential stage winners found themselves quickly caught out, with Warren Barguil of GIANT-Alpecin caught out. Thibaut Pinot in the polka dot jersey again found himself at the wrong end of a split, so too did his principle rival in the KOM classification Rafal Majka.
Through the intermediate sprint it was interesting to note the amount of interest generated in the break as Iljo Keisse took maximum points in a closely contested sprint ahead of Bert-Jan Lindeman, André Greipel and Bryan Coquard. Back in the main peloton Orica-BikeExchange were there and looking strong. They had white jersey wearer Adam Yates in their ranks, while going through the intermediate sprint AG2R La Mondiale led the way with Team Sky, BMC Racing and Etixx-Quick Step close at hand. Astana’s Fabio Aru had a mechanical at around the feed zone, but thankfully he had support to help him back into the bunch.
At this point the gap was coming down quite steadily, with a 10.50min lead still there for the break with 52km to go. The chasers were at 6.46mins and very much in no man’s land. It was interesting to note that the likes of Trek-Segafredo and Etixx-Quick Step were paying close quarter to the front of the peloton. Marcel Kittel had taken off his sprinter’s hat for the day and was busy playing the role of super domestique for the team as they looked to set up Daniel Martin at the end of the stage.
The climbing begins
As the break reached the summit of the climb of the Côte de Gordes – with Thomas De Gendt taking the one point on offer – their advantage had dropped to 9.20mins. It would be interesting to see how much of an advantage the break would be able to hold on to or whether the pressure in the peloton would be such that the whole advantage could still be mopped up. BMC Racing were now taking the pace-setting duties for the bunch, while in the break André Greipel was setting the pace up the category 3 Col des Trois Termes; looking after the cause of teammate Thomas De Gendt who took maximum points here too.
As the bunch went over the Termes the intensity in the break appeared to have gone up as well with the break strung out in a line. But there was trouble ahead for the chase peloton as Simon Gerrans, leading the way, took a tumble going downhill; resulting in Ian Stannard and a couple of other Sky teammates coming down with him. Gerrans looked a little banged up and the result was Chris Froome coming to the front to call a truce on the front of the peloton. Movistar were now at the front of the peloton, but out of respect for Gerrans, Froome and Team Sky they took their foot off the gas completely; allowing the yellow jersey – who had stopped for his teammates – and the boys in black to get back on. This allowed the break to stretch their lead back out to close to 9 minutes again.
Crucially though for Yates and the white jersey it meant that his principle young rider rivals in the chase group were able to get back on after looking near certain to have lost out big time. The now significantly swollen peloton charged on then, with Team Sky now back on the front again with Etixx-Quick Step.
Break begins to break up
Bryan Coquard became one of the first to lose contact with the break as the kilometres ticked away, but the break were now enjoying a much healthier advantage again, with a 9.23min advantage with 25.7km to go. That continued to climb, making it ever more possible that the winner of the stage would emerge from their midst.
Meanwhile back in the bunch things were all change. FDJ had been fighting to get back into the bunch for most of the stage thus far; but now, having caught the bunch, they sent their men to the front. They were helped by Movistar as Fabio Aru found himself in mechanical difficulties once again and needing to chase. Arthur Vichot, French national champion, assumed the lead at the head of the peloton, while the break started to climb the false flats that comprised the lowest slopes and the unofficial start of Mont Ventoux.
Movistar were the next to take over the pace setting as crosswinds really looked like they were biting again. BMC Racing and Team Sky were right there in attendance, not wanting to give an inch as the got ready to go up. Up ahead the break’s lead dipped below 9 minutes again with 16.5km to go. The start of the climb was officially 7km away, but the road was still rising, and André Greipel spied an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that the gradient wasn’t at its steepest just yet. He attacked with 14km to go and got a gap with the lead to the bunch at 8.36mins.
With 12km to go Bora-Argon18 took over at the front of the bunch, with Trek-Segafredo also lending a hand as the bunch once again began to break apart. Up ahead Greipel’s lead that had got close to 15 seconds was now looking under threat as the chase group looked to bring him back. Indeed he was caught with 10.9km to go, and no sooner had he been caught than he was dropped; his work done for the day. Iljo Keisse was next to go as the gap dipped to 7.36mins with 10km to go. Trek-Segafredo led the way, with Movistar and Sky, putting the hurt on a number of riders who were desperate to remain in contact with the bunch.
In the break it was Thomas De Gendt was looking strong while Chris Anker Sorensen became the next victim of the pace along with Cyril Lemoine and Sep Vanmarcke. Stef Clement of IAM Cycling was next to lose contact, with Sylvain Chavanel also gone. The break was fragmenting, and fragmenting fast as Daniel Teklehaimanot also lost contact with the leaders. Soon only Bert-Jan Lindeman, Daniel Navarro, Serge Pauwels and Thomas De Gendt were left out in front.
Behind them Pierre Rolland attacked the bunch for Cannondale-Drapac. The stage might have been lost, but the Frenchman had more than 5 minutes to make up. He got a little daylight on the bunch as Team Sky took up the chase now, keeping the Frenchman in check up ahead of them.
Meanwhile Thomas De Gendt was visibly the strongest in the break, putting the hurt on the rest of the leading group, with Serge Pauwels also strong. Sylvain Chavanel had put in a valiant effort to get back on with the leaders and keep up French hopes of a win on Bastille Day. With 7km to go though Serge Pauwels and Daniel Navarro took off up the road, leaving De Gendt behind. Navarro was having a hard time trying to stay with him, and it looked only a question of time before he too succumbed.
The GC battle commences
Team Sky remained on the front of the pack, with Mikel Landa forcing the pace. So far they looked unthreatened at the front, but Louis Meintjes and Adam Yates were just dangling on the back of the group as IAM Cycling’s Jarlinson Pantano launched an attack. His move was countered by Alejandro Valverde who attacked strongly, and had to be considered a threat; being just 1.13 min behind Froome on GC. Team Sky weren’t taking the bait though, instead opting to chase patiently as Pierre Rolland dropped off the back. Valverde was brought back and onwards the bunch went before Nairo Quintana launched an attack. The Colombian had the likes of Daniel Martin on the ropes, but not Team Sky, who were able to peg him back.
Up ahead Thomas De Gendt managed to bring back Pauwels and Navarro as they passed the 5km to go banner, 6.34mins still in hand over the Froome group. Off the back of the Froome group went Warren Barguil, as Nairo Quintana launched another attack, Wout Poels taking up the chase for Team Sky. Once again the Colombian was back in the bunch, no dice given by Sky. With 4km to go the leading trio were still together and 6.36mins ahead of the chasers, De Gendt led the way; finding a resurgence of energy. In the bunch Chris Froome was marked closely by Quintana and Richie Porte who still had time to attack as the race dragged on.
With 3.4km to go De Gendt launched a move, daring Pauwels and Navarro to come with him. The Spaniard Navarro had nothing left and fell off the pace, but Pauwels tried again to bring him back. While the leaders hit 2km to go, the maillot jaune group had 4km still to ride. Pauwels by now had managed to catch De Gendt, and make a move of his own. De Gendt was his match though, bridging back and setting the pace again. The GC group brought back Cyril Lemoine and Andre Greipel with some 3.5km to go and that was Froome’s cue to attack. Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana immediately went with him, but they were the only ones who could as the rest were left behind.
As Froome accelerated again Quintana lost contact with his two rivals, leaving the former teammates together. Froome charged on with Porte on his wheel, the two of them cementing their status at the head of the GC battle. It was a good move from Porte, who was taking the chance to move up on GC after his mechanical earlier in the race. Back in the bunch Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo attacked and got a gap as up ahead Daniel Navarro managed to catch Pauwels and De Gendt to give a leading group of three. Behind them Mollema had caught Porte and Froome, forcing Movistar to chase.
With 400m to go it was De Gendt leading, with Pauwels second wheel and Navarro third. Incredibly a three-way sprint would decide the stage, De Gendt opened it up, with Navarro quickly distanced, Pauwels also was spent and De Gendt was able to lift hands triumphantly to take the stage and the polka dot jersey. Pauwels was second, with Navarro third. Stef Clement took fourth with Sylvain Chavanel the first Frenchman across the line.
Back down the mountain the battle was red hot for the GC, with Froome, Porte and Mollema still leading the way. Mollema was in fine form as he pushed onwards, trading efforts with the maillot jaune and his former super domestique. Behind them Adam Yates launched an acceleration, forcing Fabio Aru to chase.
Disaster, confusion and chaos on the Ventoux
But then disaster struck. As Porte led the way, the camera motorbike ahead of the three of them suddenly stopped, and Porte, Froome and Mollema had nowhere to go apart from onto the ground. Mollema’s bike was ok and he as able to get up and continue on to finish ahead of the rest. But Porte took a little while to get going again, and as for Froome has a different case entirely. His bike was deemed unrideable and until a bike could be provided the maillot jaune was faced with the bizarre situation of having to jog up the mountain! Finally neutral service provided a bike, but that too was a terrible fit for Froome and eventually he waited until his team could give him a machine. Finally he was able to get back on his bike and finish the stage, but his time loss to his rivals had been substantial.
After several minutes of deliberation from the race commissaires it was decided that Chris Froome would keep the yellow jersey, 47 seconds ahead of Yates, 56 seconds ahead of Mollema, and 1.01mins ahead of Nairo Quintana.