Greg Van Avermaet of BMC Racing has won stage 5 of the Tour de France and claimed the leader’s yellow jersey in the first day in the mountains. Van Avermaet won the stage ahead of Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt and Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka as the GC contenders came out to play and Alberto Contador lost more ground.
The mountains have finally arrived, or at least sort of. Stage 5 of the Tour de France can be considered a little bit of a warm up to the big mountains later on; but that would not mean that the GC challengers would be giving it anything less than full gas today over the six climbs that featured during the stage. Although the most severe were two category 2 climbs, the intensity was likely to be high.
Strong break to start
After the early skirmishes that typically litter the beginnings of a stage a group of nine riders got away. Florian Vachon was the latest Fortuneo-Vital Concept rider in the move, Cyril Gautier of AG2R La Mondiale, Romain Sicard of Direct Energie, Serge Pauwels of Dimension Data, Greg Van Avermaet, Rafal Majka and Thomas De Gendt were all there, Andriy Grivko of Astana and Bartosz Huzarski of Bora-Argon18 completed the nine.
Despite the clear talent in the breakaway of people like Rafal Majka, himself a former King of the Mountains back in 2014, the Pole was no threat to the general classification. His position in the Tour was purely to work for Contador and as such he’d been happy to concede 17.51mins on GC before today. Thomas De Gendt and Andriy Grivko would also need to be watched as their climbing reputations were good; but Greg van Avermaet would be an interesting commodity in the move. The Belgian could climb, of that there was no doubt, but his climbing skills were usually reserved for very short, sharp, cobblestoned climbs in Belgium. Having said that the fact that the longest major climb – outside of the gently ramping Col de Neronne, was the 5.4km Pas de Peyrol gave just cause to think that maybe he could come good here. He also started the day just 18 seconds off of the yellow jersey of Peter Sagan.
Team Sky haven’t been seen too much on the front of the pack in the early stages of the Tour de France so far. They’ve been close often and then on the front in the latter stages to keep Chris Froome safe. But today they marshalled the peloton and went off in pursuit of the break; which built a 6.40min lead. The break’s lead was still a healthy one, but all was not well when it came to cooperation. Of the nine riders out front, three were clearly strongest, with Grivko, De Gendt and van Avermaet accelerating away from the rest.
Through the feed zone the peloton allowed the break to gain a much more substantial lead, and with 100km of the 216km stage remaining the gap was an impressive 11 minutes. At the bottom of the second climb of the day – the Côte du Puy Saint-Mary – De Gendt, Grivko and van Avermaet enjoyed a 13 minute lead. Tinkoff were sticking close behind Team Sky, but didn’t need to worry about chasing for now with Majka still up the road.
De Gendt launches KOM assault
Thomas De Gendt looked like KOM points were on his agenda today as he began to mop up things, starting with the top of the Côte du Puy Saint-Mary Saint-Mary. Meanwhile Sky were content to let that lead grow and grow for the break. 15 miinutes was the advantage with 63km to go. Meanwhile the former leaders – the six who were dropped – remained out in no mans land with nearly 3 minutes deficit to the leading trio and 12 minutes back to the peloton.
On the Pas de Peyrol Andriy Grivko began to feel the heat, dropping back from the leaders and leaving the two Belgians – De Gendt and van Avermaet – to soldier on solo. Behind them Movistar came to the fore and injected some serious pace in to the chase, bringing the gap down to 8 minutes and simultaneously dropping the yellow jersey of Peter Sagan. It was also interesting to note that Vincenzo Nibali of Astana was floundering a little; such was the intensity of the pace now in the break.
Up in front De Gendt continued to mop up the KOM points, with van Avermaet holding on to his compatriot’s wheel. On the descent though things changed and the BMC Racing rider started to pull away. De Gendt was able to get back on board, but van Avermaet wouldn’t be done just yet. On the Col du Perthus the gap had come down to 7 minutes with 19.5km to go.
Van Avermaet breaks clear
It was on this climb that the race winning move was made, not by De Gendt, but by van Avermaet. He pulled away with a rather stinging attack, leaving De Gendt in the dust. The Lotto Soudal rider wouldn’t be done yet though, he still had a podium place to fight for and he was certainly going to do just that. Meanwhile Rafal Majka was emerging as a strong man in the stragglers of the break; leading Bartosz Huzarski in pursuit of the leading pair. But he would drop back to the peloton to support Alberto Contador; though it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of him.
Team Sky had moved back to the front of what was left of the peloton. They still had 5.40mins to make up to van Avermaet and they weren’t going to bridge that much. Van Avermaet was now descending quickly down to the final climb up the Col de Font de Cère. The descent was a tricky and technical one and would further help his cause as a proficient descender.
After getting to the bottom of the final climb van Avermaet put his all into getting over the final climb of the day. Just 3.3km in length but a solid 5.8% average gradient, van Avermaet was out of the saddle and making brief work of it before charging on to have a very healthy 6 minute lead with 2km to go. Van Avermaet slowed significantly through the technical turns on the descent, but so too would everybody else.
Under the flamme rouge and the Belgian could begin to enjoy himself. The crowds were out in droves to welcome him home in Lioran, and welcome him they did. After 5 and a half hours of work and some 230km of being out in front of the rest of the race, van Avermaet crossed the line victorious, punching the air in delight as he knew the stage and yellow awaited. Thomas De Gendt put in a valiant effort and managed to hold on to second place, but he would have the bonus of taking the lead in the KOM classification.
Behind them Contador had lost ground, some 33 seconds to the peloton in fact, which gave Rafal Majka the freedom to try something for himself, which he dutifully did; taking third place ahead of Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez. Daniel Martin of Etixx-Quick Step led the GC group home containing Aru, Valverde, Froome, Porte et al. But no Contador, no Nibali.
George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo was the first of the KIwis home. He crossed the line alongside Team Sky’s Wout Poels on a day where much of the field lost upwards of 20 minutes. Greg Henderson of Lotto Soudal came home in the Greipel-Kittel group, while Shane Archbold of Bora-Argon18 accompanied teammate Sam Bennett home in the Cavendish group.