Ion Izaguirre (Movistar) won stage 20 of the Tour de France with a daredevil descent off the Col de Joux Plane, holding off fellow breakaway riders Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). In the overall classification, Chris Froome (Sky) was never challenged throughout the day, and held onto his lead over Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in third.
One more break for Bennett
The stage presented the last opportunity for riders who wanted to challenge for the overall before the final stage procession into Paris. The attacks went from the moment the flag dropped, but as this was the last mountain stage there were many riders keen to get in the move. A large group started forming at the front, and consolidated over the first category two climb of the day. George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) made it into the move once again, along with the likes of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Sergio Henao (Sky), Pierre Roland (Cannondale-Drapac), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff). As the best placed rider in the move, Kreuziger, who had started the day in twelfth, had the most to gain, and his team mate Sagan worked hard at the front to help open the gap to the peloton. The gap grew quickly enough to move Kreuziger up into virtual second place overall.
Meanwhile back in the peloton Sky controlled the pace, especially on the descents, where showers had made the roads slippery. Froome seemed nervous on some of the earlier descents, which was expected given his crash the previous day. Sagan’s pressure on the descent of the first category Col de la Colombiere caused the lead group to break up, with Sagan, Kreuziger, Nibali, Costa, Jarlinson Pantano (IAM), Ion Izaguirre (Movistar), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) forming a lead group.
However, the cooperation in the leading group quickly disintegrated as the team mates of riders being overtaken in the overall classification by Kreuziger decided to stop working in the front group.
In the peloton, Sky finally received some help at the front of the peloton as Astana came to the front to help in the chase, trying to preserve the high overall position of Fabio Aru.
Meanwhile, the lead for the front group was hovering around the six minute mark, which still left Kreuziger in virtual second place in the race.
Bennett increases pressure
The remainder of the break was languishing some 50 seconds behind the leading group, but as they hit the early slopes of the Col de la Ramaz the chasing group started picking up some impetus under pressure from Bennett, as at the front Sagan finally had to give up working for Kreuziger as the climb became too much.
Pressure from Astana in the peloton managed to bring the gap to the leading group back to under the five minute mark, which meant that Kreuziger slipped back to virtual fourth. As the peloton hit the steeper grades of the Ramaz, the Ag2r team came to the front to put pressure on Sky, but also to close the gap to the break in order set up their team leader, Romain Bardet, for a potential repeat stage win later on, while at the back of the peloton former second placed rider, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) was losing contact.
At the front of the race, the two lead groups, or what remained of them, came together, with De Gendt attacking off the front again as he set off in pursuit of more king of the mountain points. Costa set off in pursuit, with Rolland on his wheel, as the rest of the riders declined to work with Kreuziger in the lead group.
On the descent, Pantano and Alaphilippe raced clear of the rest of the break, gaining some 35 seconds over the rest of the break by the time they hit the valley road at the bottom of the descent. The gap between the peloton and the break had gone back out to almost seven minutes again as the peloton took a very ginger approach to the descent of the Ramaz, which also allowed Mollema to make his return to the yellow jersey group.
Time for GC shuffle?
As the yellow jersey group hit the foot of the Joux Plane, Daryl Impey (Orica-Bike Exchange) took over at the head of the peloton, working for his team leader Adam Yates, as Fabio Aru (Astana) slipped off the back of the yellow jersey group.
Alaphilippe and Pantano was still in the lead, some 1:30 ahead of the Kreuziger group, with the yellow jersey group 5:15 behind the leaders. Mollema, who looked to be in trouble earlier on, launched a big attack, but Sky did not respond, setting a constant pace for the yellow jersey of Froome, while in the chase group, Nibali attacked and set off in solo pursuit of the two leaders.
At the front of the race, Alaphilippe attacked Pantano a number of times, but Nibali was drawing ever closer, as further down the slopes the Sky-led peloton brought Mollema back into the fold, but not before Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) attacked.
As Nibali joined the leading duo the pace at the front picked up some more as Nibali put in a number of digs in an attempt to rid himself of his companions, and finally managed to leave Pantano and Alaphilippe behind. They were in turn caught by Izaguirre, who then set off in pursuit of Nibali, with Pantano on his wheel. The two managed to join Nibali at the front, as the peloton kept cutting the gap to the leaders, down to around 2:30.
As the descent started getting more challenging, Izaguirre managed to take the lead, with Pantano in second, and Nibali in third. In the peloton, Sky controlled the pace, with four team mates there to protect Froome. Izaguirre kept building on his lead as he swept through the treacherous and rain-soaked corners, and came to the line well clear of the rest of the breakaway to claim the first stage win for Spain in the 2016 Tour de France. Pantano held on for second place, ahead of NIbali in third. Alaphilippe held on for fourth, with Costa rounding out the top five.
As the yellow jersey group made its way to the line, Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) launched a late bid to gain some time over Louis Meintjies (Lampre-Merida) as the two fought for eighth place in the overall standings, putting a little bit of daylight between themselves and Froome. However, the yellow jersey was not bothered with a couple of seconds lost, as he all but secured his win in the 2016 Tour de France, 4:05 ahead of Bardet, with Quintana in third.