Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal has won his first career Tour de France stage. The Australian finally crossed the line first after four top-3 finishes, winning ahead of Dylan Groenewegen and Elia Viviani.
The first stage after the rest day, and the final stage before the return to the big mountains, stage 11 of the Tour de France from Albi to Toulouse looked to continue a trend that had not been seen for over 15 years. Never since the 2002 Tour de France had each of the opening 10 stages of the Tour de France been won by a different rider and never since 1994 had each of the opening 11 stages been won by different riders. That would change on the road to Toulouse.
Four riders got away to establish the day’s breakaway. Anthony Perez and Stephane Rossetto of Cofidis were joined by Lilian Calmejane of Total Direct Energie and Aimé De Gendt of Wanty-Gobert. The quartet quickly built a lead of just in excess of 2.15minutes, but for a while that seemed to be the upper limit of the break’s advantage over the 167km course; until the bunch loosed the reins a little more and allowed the break a lead that went out to just over 2.45mins. The break’s lead struck 3.23mins with 130km to go.
As has been customary throughout the sprint stages of the Tour de France, Lotto Soudal, Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-Quick Step shared the load when it came to setting the tempo in the peloton, limiting their losses and eventually starting to reel in the break as was always predicted on a day like today. With 100km to go the bunch had whittled down a little of the break’s lead to 2.21mins in what was progressing into a textbook day at the Tour for the sprinters.
Anthony Perez and De Gendt contested maximum points at the intermediate sprint after Perez had already taken maximum points at both of the climbs. The Cofidis rider got first place, but with just the first four places taken in the break, the peloton had a good number of points to contend for as well. BORA-Hansgrohe and Bahrain Merida led out the sprint with Elia Viviani and Sonny Colbrelli challenging Peter Sagan for fifth place. In the end it was Viviani who took 5th with Sagan 6th and Colbrelli 7th.
The break continued to patiently work their way onwards, surely knowing their fate as the day continued to unfold. Through the feed zone normal service resumed at the fornt of the peloton before the break’s lead dropped below 2 minutes for the first time at around 60km to go. Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos were close towards the front of the peloton, but still the trio of Jumbo-Visma, Deceuninck-Quick Step and Lotto Soudal conducted matters at the head of affairs.
With 43.4km to go the break’s lead fell to 1 minute before stretching once more. Problems arose though with just over 30km to go. George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma and Tom Scully of EF Education First were both impacted by the crash although it didn’t look like they went down. A number of big names were involved in the crash, however, with Nairo Quintana of Movistar, Giulio Ciccone and Richie Porte of Trek-Segafredo all going down and being forced to chase, 21 seconds behind the peloton who weren’t yet at full flight. Sadly the most impacted was Niki Terpstra of Total Direct Energie, who spent a long time sat on the ground after crashing and was forced to abandon the Tour.
Porte and Quintana succeeded in regaining contact with the peloton who left themselves with a little to do late in the piece. As Tom Scully also regained contact with the peloton and managed to make his way towards the front of the peloton, the breakaway did what they could to retain as much of their 50 second lead with 20km to go. Their lead dropped to 30 seconds with 15km left and at this point the sprint teams had really begun to establish their trains at the front of the race. The polka dot jersey of Tim Wellens was busy getting Caleb Ewan into position, with the predictable presence of Team Ineos never far away.
Approaching 10km to go Aimé De Gendt went on the attack and was the last man standing from the move. He held a 34 second lead with 10km to go as Katusha-Alpecin and BORA-Hansgrohe joined Groupama-FDJ at the front of the race. As that happened Jasper De Buyst of Lotto Soudal came off at the side of the road after being nudged into the path of a spectator who had just gotten too close. Right behind him was Caleb Ewan who, although not crashing, did find himself losing his position in the peloton and having to chase to get back in contention.
De Gendt was doing a sterling job of holding off the peloton, holding on to a 30 second lead with 6km to go. His lead was dropping but he was burying himself to try and hold off the peloton who were now strung out in a long line. BORA-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quick Step were at the head of that line as steadily riders dropped off the pace at the back of the peloton. With 5km to go Jumbo-Visma hit the front of the peloton, with De Gendt’s lead down to 21 seconds.
Finally De Gendt surrendered on the nasty uphill drag with 4.5km left to race and from there it was all Jumbo-Visma who were looking to line up Groenewegen. The boys in yellow and black did a good job of holding their position as Deceuninck-Quick Step lined up on the other side of the road. Meanwhile behind Jumbo-Visma, Lotto Soudal were lining up for Ewan in what was becoming an intriguing finale. With 2km to go Katusha-Alpecin took their place at the front of the race, but with no obvious sign of their sprinter.
With 1.5km to go Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen looked to be the best placed to sprint, with Viviani and Sagan fighting for position behind them. At 1km to go Michael Morkov held the lead and Jumbo-Visma again took over on the front with Ewan sitting third wheel as Dimension Data made a late charge. But with 400m to go it was Groenewegen vs Ewan with the Dutchman striking first. Caleb Ewan drew level with Groenewegen as the finish line neared, with the two neck and neck at the finish line. A throw of the bikes at the line confirmed that finally the 25 year old had taken his first stage win at the Tour de France.
Groenewegen finished second with Viviani and Peter Sagan behind him. An emotional Ewan teared up after crossing the finish line with one of the early riders to congratulate him being compatriot Michael Matthews.