Peter Sagan of Tinkoff has claimed his third stage win of this year’s Tour de France; as the race crossed the Swiss border. It took a final throw of the bike to steal the win from Alexander Kristoff who looked like he thought he’d done enough to win. IAM Cycling’s Sondre Holst Enger took third place. In his fareweel to his home town Fabian Cancellara took sixth place.
Today’s stage 16 of the Tour de France was the final sprint stage before Paris, the last oppotunity for the sprinters to shine before the rest day, and Fabian Cancellara’s opportunity at a final farewell in the Tour de France in front of his home fans, with the stage finish in Berne after 209km of racing.
Day out for teammates
In all the stage would spend about half its time in Switzerland, but spending all their time on the front of the race from kilometre 13 were two teammates, Julian Alaphilippe and Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step. Interestingly no one could bridge across to join these two riders and despite the initial pace setting from Lotto Soudal, and attempts from Paul Martens, Bert-Jan Lindeman and Timo Roosen of LottoNL-Jumbo, and Pierre-Luc Périchon of Fortuneo Vital Concept to bridge across, no dice was given by the peloton and the two Etixx-Quick Step teammates were left to fight forwards alone.
Perhaps because of the calibre of the two riders in the move, the peloton were unwilling to give the break a lot of leash. Finally the pair were able to gain a 5 minute lead by the time they had covered 59km. Behind them a group containing Lawson Craddock of Cannondale-Drapac, Timo Roosen, Vegard Breen of Fortuneo-Vital Concept and Nicolas Edet of Cofidis tried to get across, getting to 1.30mins away from the break. Alaphilippe and Martin weren’t waiting around though, and after 75km the gap had grown again to the chasers to 2.05mins.
The break’s lead finally peaked at 5.55mins before beginning to drop, meanwhile the chasers realised that their efforts were futile and surrendered their efforts to the peloton once more just after the 100km mark. In the back of the peloton was Shane Archbold of Bora-Argon18, keeping an eye on things and hoping that teammate Sam Bennett would be able to get over the ramp just before the finish and then have the beating of the likes of Greg van Avermaet of BMC Racing, Peter Sagan of Tinkoff, Michael Albasini or Michael Matthews of Orica-BikeExchange, or maybe even the great man Fabian Cancellara of Trek-Segafredo himself.
After the gap had stabilised at the 3 minute marker for quite some time it began to drop again and with 50km to go just over 2.30mins remained of the break’s advantage as Martin and Alaphilippe made their way towards the intermediate sprint of the day at the 167.5km point. Behind the break there was no one dominant team on the front, with BMC, Direct Energie, Tinkoff and Katusha all showing themselves at the front of affairs; and giving relief to the likes of Team Sky, Astana and Movistar who, nevertheless, kept close to the front of the bunch.
Is green in the bag for Sagan?
Alaphilippe led the way over the intermediate sprint, but behind them the pace was going up as Bryan Coquard, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan amongst others got ready to take on the sprint for third place. The pace in the bunch had increased, but all of a sudden the expected showdown failed to materialise with the pace suddenly going out of the sprint, allowing Peter Sagan securing third place; unchallenged. Perhaps this was the day the riders recognised Peter Sagan as winner of the points classification once again. But following that the pursuit of Martin and Alaphilippe was renewed with further vigour and with 35km to go the gap had been cut to just 1.15mins.
The gap dipped below 1 minute before the 31km to go mark and continued to fall steadily with the catch set to be made outside of 20km to go. But Martin and Alaphilippe were resilient, with one thing being certain, if anyone was going to catch Tony Martin they would be made to work for every second gained. With 26km to go the duo had 36 seconds in hand as they tackled the solitary category 4 climb of the day. On the slopes of the Côte de Muhleberg Alaphilippe finally sat up, leaving his German teammate – the three-time world time trial champion – ahead and alone.
Rui Costa’s counter attack
Martin would continue to fight, with the battle not over until the catch was made; but the peloton had him well within their sights. With 23.5km to go the gap was just 12 seconds and a kilometre later Martin was finally swept up. There was still a long way to ride, and 22km left the door open for a potential counter attack to go up the road; and Lampre-Merida showed that they would be up for the challenge. Rui Costa headed up the road and had a slight lead with 20km to go.
Hitting upwards of 50kph, Costa built a 15 second lead with 19km to go, while behind him Dimension Data and Direct Energie led the way with Team Sky, LottoNL-Jumbo and BMC Racing all there or thereabouts. The gap began to tumble again at around the 17km to go point with Costa enjoying 13 seconds of rope to work with. The pace in the peloton was high with riders strung right out. One rider content to stay out of trouble was LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett, who’d been in the breakaway the day before. He was able to hang on to the bunch though for now, while many other riders – including Marcel Kittel – were shaken off the back.
After initially seeing his lead cut to less than 10 seconds, Costa then found the strength to build his lead once more to 17 seconds, and hold an 11 second lead with 10km to go. That gap held and increased with Stephen Cummings leading the peloton for Dimension Data with 8km to go. There was still much to play for, with the climb to the final kilometre to go coming closer. On Cummings’ wheel the field were strung out with no real sprinters’ team organised. Mark Cavendish was there in amongst the leaders but the question was: could he hold pace on the climb?
The sprinters flock at the finish
With 5 km remaining Costa’s lead was down to 8 seconds as the peloton stretched right out in pursuit of him. Finally with 4.5km to go Costa’s lead evaporated as IAM Cycling took over on the front of the race. The cobbled climb was going to be crucial for the field and positioning was always going to be all important. With less than 3km to go the cobbles began to show themselves, and with 2.2km to go the climb hit. Despite a couple of little skirmishes everything was together with Peter Sagan poised on second wheel and Edvald Boasson Hagen fourth going into the final kilometre. Between them though was GIANT-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb.
Under the kilometre to go banne the field were stretch right out, with Etixx-Quick Step coming through with 500m to go. Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff had done well to get up the climb with the leaders, and Fabian Cancellara was also there but Alejandro Valverde led out the sprint. Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan were ready to pounce though and it became clear that it was a two-way duel for the win. On the line Kristoff thought he had won but Sagan had thrown his bike forward just in time to get the win. Michael Matthews of Orica-BikeExchange took third place.