Fernando Gaviria of Quick-Step Floors has taken his second stage win of the Tour de France. The Colombian sprinter won the stage to Sarzeau ahead of Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel; while Dion Smith’s Tour de France continued in the strong fashion it started in, as he finished ninth on the stage.
La Boule to Sarzeau would take the riders on a 195km journey from one coast to another, but would first take the riders inland. Significantly for New Zealand, the only king of the mountains categorised climb was a category 4 climb, which meant that unless Kevin Ledanois of Fortuneo-Samsic took that point then it was likely that the polka dot jersey would stay with Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Dion Smith for another stage, subject to finishing higher in the general classification than whoever did take the point.
Breakaway composition keeps Smith’s lead safe
After the end of the neutral zone the attacks started and 4 riders went up the road together. Jerome Cousin of Direct Energie, Guillaume van Keirsbulck of Wanty-Groupe Gobert; and Dmitri Claeys of Cofidis and his teammate Anthony Perez. The highest placed rider in the general classification was van Keirsbulck who started the stage in 112th position; which was good news for Dion Smith. As long as no one else joined the break, whoever took the KOM point Smith would be guaranteed to keep the polka dot jersey for at least another day as long as the break was caught.
BMC Racing held the maillot jaune in their ranks courtesy of Greg van Avermaet, but they had little need of seriously chasing the break down in the long run, as their primary goal was the long-game for Richie Porte. However, although the break was quickly allowed to build a substantial lead of over 6 minutes inside the first 20km, BMC Racing did post Patrick Bevin on the front of the peloton. He was eventually joined by three teammates as the break’s lead stretched to more than 7 minutes.
The first location of interest for the riders came at just before the 100km point with the intermediate sprint. As the stage unfolded BMC Racing took a less prominent role in the front of the pack, keeping just one rider to the fore, while Team Sky and Movistar marshalled their forces towards the head of the race. Patrick Bevin would frequently be seen at the front of the race, but as the intermediate sprint drew closer Lotto Soudal began to assert themselves on the front of the peloton.
Gaviria takes sprint, break commit to long game
A rise in pace from the peloton saw the breakaway’s lead topple down to below 5 minutes as riders jostled for position and looked to line up for the sprint. The breakaway decided not to contest the intermediate sprint, instead simply motoring through at a healthy 49kph with van Keirsbulck leading the quartet through.
Groupama-FDJ led out the sprint, but with Quick-Step Floors, BORA-Hansgrohe and Lotto Soudal they found themselves out of contention. Fernando Gaviria took the sprint for fifth, with Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan just behind him. By the time the race reached the sprint the break’s advantage had been reduced still further to just 3.22mins.
From here the break continued, with riders from LottoNL-Jumbo, Quick-Step Floors, Lotto Soudal and Dimension Data all contributing to the chase. The KOM climb peaked at 59.5km to go and although the break’s advantage continued to dwindle it looked likely that they would at least stay clear this far with the gap still sitting at around the 2.15min mark.
The quartet didn’t contest the intermediate sprint and neither did they contest the KOM point on offer with Anthony Perez leading the break through with 1.30mins in hand. It looked for a while that the break were in danger of being caught far too early, but BORA-Hansgrohe and Quick-Step Floors seemed to move towards the front to calm the pace down and ensure that nothing of that sort happened too soon.
Cousin, Perez, Claeys and van Keirsbulck remained together and with 20km to go their lead held at 2 minutes. But from there the surge in pace from Quick-Step Floors brought the time gap right down and with 8.5km to go the gap was at just over 1 minute. With 8km to go the time gap dipped below a minute, and the break of four seemed to sense an opportunity to cause an upset. Credit to them, the break dug deep and did not give up working together.
Scully to the rescue for Uran
As the break reached 5km to go a big crash in the peloton brought down a large number of riders including Rigoberto Uran. Tom Scully was on hand straight away to try and bring his team leader back to the pack in what suddenly became a very tense few kilometres at the back of the peloton let alone at the front. While Uran was able to rejoin the peloton, it was disaster for Katusha-Alpecin’s Ilnur Zakarin who found himself much further back.
With 3.5km to go the gap was still at 27 seconds, as Dimension Data continued to lead the peloton. Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert could be seen making his way into position in the peloton, while Team Sky now took over the lead in the peloton. The time gap was coming down but far from quickly as Team Sky hit the front next.
At 1.5km to go van Keirsbulck threw it all on the line with a last ditch attack. He was caught right on 1km to go as the sprint began to wind up. A number of teams were in the fight for the win and it made for a very messy sprint finish. With 300m to go Peter Sagan was positioned perfectly on second wheel, with Fernando Gaviria lurking. Dion Smith was about 12 riders back or so and had a bit of work to do, while Alexander Kristoff was well positioned heading to the final kick for the line.
But a big surge from Gaviria and Greipel saw the two of them go head-to-head in what looked like a straight sprint between the two of them. But Greipel began to fade and Gaviria took full advantage, just snatching the stage honours with Peter Sagan squeezing through to take second place.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert had a sprint to remember with 3 riders in the top ten. Andrea Pasqualon took sixth place with Dion Smith 9th and Timothy Dupont 10th. Behind them Tom Scully, Jack Bauer and Dion Smith all finished safely in the bunch with the same time as the Colombian stage winner.