Magnus Cort Nielsen of Astana has won the team’s second consecutive stage in Carcassonne. The Dane was victorious ahead of Ion Izagirre of Bahrain Merida and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo.
The final day before the Tour’s second rest day was 181km in length and took in three categorised climbs; rated 3, 2 and finally 1. The last climb peaked with 41km to go, a prelude to a long downhill rush to Carcassonne where the road finally flattened out. The day began with three Kiwis in the field, with Patrick Bevin withdrawing from the race part way through yesterday’s stage.
Race is on from the off
The intensity was on from the start for the riders, with a breakaway really struggling to go clear. Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott and Warren Barguil of Fortuneo-Samsic were very animated on the front and eventually, after some 23km of racing it looked like the two of them – together with Gregor Mühlberger of BORA-Hansgrohe – might have finally succeeded. The peloton were just 15 seconds behind and not yet settled either, as Julian Alaphilippe looked to join his KOM rival at the front of the race.
Barguil, Mühlberger and Yates spent some 13km out in front, not gaining any more on the bunch, before the bunch eventually brought that back too. Still attacks came and went, until finally with 136km to go and almost 50km covered, a breakaway went up the road and Team Sky shut down the chase behind them. 29 riders were in the move including Damien Howson and Daryl Impey of Mitchelton-Scott, Domenico Pozzovivo of Bahrain Merida, Roain Sicard of Direct Energie, Toms Skujins and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Magnus Cort Nielsen and Michael Valgren of Astana, Greg van Avermaet of BMC Racing, as well as Peter Sagan, Pavel Poljanski and Rafal Majka of BORA-Hansgrohe.
With the peloton happy with the composition of the break it didn’t take too long for the escapees to build a lead of upwards of 4 minutes by the time they reached the race’s second climb of the day. Team Sky set up their usual front-of-the-race formation, but not with a desire to chase. In the breakaway Lilian Calmejane attacked the 28 riders to take the points at the summit and enjoy a lead of around 6 minutes over the peloton and more than 1.30mins over the rest of the breakaway.
Majka makes his move
The Frenchman had little by way of company though and with 110km to go he was alone and with a 1.15min lead over his former breakaway companions. With 100km remaining he opted to save energy for the remainder of the stage and allow himself to be caught, and from there there was a lull until Fabien Grellier of Direct Energie and Julian Bernard of Trek-Segafredo. Together the two riders shared a lead of 1.30mins over the rest of the break as the race passed through 50km to go. The peloton at this point were over 13 minutes behind and looking content to once again leave the breakaway to contest the win.
In the break the intensity was climbing in pursuit of the two leaders. Domenico Pozzovivo rode strongly as the still-large breakaway began to crumble. An attack from Rafal Majka, with a 37 second deficit to the leaders, was the big move from the chasers though. The former king of the mountains at the Tour de France made a powerful acceleration, while Grellier dropped off of Bernard’s wheel. It took next to no time for Majka to bridge to Grellier and then to the Trek-Segafredo rider. The catch was made to Bernard with 47km to go and 6km of the climb remaining. The Frenchman made a valiant effort to stay with Majka but the Pole was too strong. Meanwhile as Majka attacked, so too did Daniel Martin of UAE Team Emirates from the peloton. It was a powerful move launched by the Irishman, and he was no threat to Team Sky.
Cort Nielsen too powerful
At the summit of the climb it was Majka on his own while giving chase were both Magnus Cort Nielsen and Bauke Mollema. Behind them came Lilian Calmejane, Domenico Pozzovivo, Ion Izagirre, Toms Skujins and Michael Valgren, and when they caught Cort Nielsen and Mollema the battle was on to get across to Majka with no more obstacles to tackle. Daniel Martin crested the summit of the climb with a lead of a minute over the remnants of the peloton but on the descent his lead gradually decreased and he would finally be caught by the peloton.
Finally the catch was made to Majka with just 14km to go and from here the race was on. Although attacks flew from 8km to go it took until 6.5km to go until the decisive break would be made. Ion Izagirre made the attack that drew out Bauke Mollema and Magnus Cort Nielsen. Under the kite with 1km to go Izagirre led, but Cort Nielsen came through as the games began and a semi-track-like sprint kicked off. Around the bend with 600m to go it was still Cort Nielsen in the lead, but then Izagirre launched from third wheel, forcing Cort Nielsen to respond as Mollema simply didn’t have the legs to contest the sprint.
Cort Nielsen was visibly strongest of the trio and despite the first acceleration from Izagirre, the Dane never lost the lead; sprinting to Astana’s second stage win in two days.
A little over 13 minutes behind Cort Nielsen, Michal Kwiatkowski led the bunch across the line with Dion Smith seventh out of the bunch.