Romain Bardet has won stage 19 of the Tour de France, the first French win of this year’s race. The win also saw him climb up onto the podium as Bauke Mollema crashed and fell back. The yellow jersey also took a tumble, along with New Zealand’s George Bennett; who had earlier been in the breakaway.
The final summit finish of the Tour de France featured in stage 19 of the race, taking the field from Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc. The stage was a short 146km day’s work but it packed a punch. Four categorised climbs, with the most severe being the Montée de Bisanne, a 12.4km 8.2% giant. That would lead to the final climb up to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc that started at gradients of almost 13% before levelling out a little bit more towards the top to 8%.
Bennett animates the breakaway
Thomas De Gendt got the attacks underway for Lotto Soudal, enticing the polka dot jersey of Rafal Majka of Tinkoff once again, along with teammate Tony Gallopin, former stage winner Jarlinson Pantano of IAM Cycling, Daniel Teklehaimanot of Dimension Data. It was eventually a group of 20 that managed to establish themselves at the front of the race, and who should find their way into the move but LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett . . . again!
It was interesting to note that this was the tactic of choice for Bennett; especially with the Olympics coming up. In a race where the likes of Mark Cavendish and Fabian Cancellara have dropped out of the race in order to prepare for the Olympic Games, it was refreshing to see our Olympic road race and time trial rider getting stuck into the action rather than taking himself out of it; or hanging back.
Also in the group were Majka’s teammate Robert Kiserlovski, Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Vegard Breen and Eduardo Sepulveda, Alexis Vuillermoz of AG2R La Mondiale, Pierre Rolland of Cannondale-Drapac, Michael Matthews of Orica-BikeExchange, Natnael Berhane of Dimension Data, Daniel Navarro of Cofidis, BMC Racing’s Amaël Moinard, Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step, Laurens Ten Dam of GIANT-Alpecin, Rui Costa of Lampre-Merida and Emmanuel Buchman of Bora-Argon18.
This time it was Astana who decided to take charge of matters at the front of the peloton, knowing that Fabio Aru had a shot at the top 5 and maybe, just maybe, the podium with a gap of 1.52mins to third placed Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange. The break gained an advantage of just over 4 minutes before the Astana team began to pull their lead back to three minutes. Meanwhile after hanging back in his last large breakaway appearance, Bennett was being much more proactive in the group this time, marking the goings on in the front of the race.
With the break mopping up all of the points in the intermediate sprint, Peter Sagan’s lead was still very safe, with the Slovakian simply needing to finish in Paris to claim yet another green jersey. Michael Matthews though did manage to move up in the classification to fourth as he took maximum points from within the break.
At the bottom of the Col de la Forclaz de Queige, a category 2 rise, Astana recieved a little help from Katusha on the front, while up ahead the break were able to build their lead to 3.47mins. Amaël Moinard led the break up the climb and helped push the lead up still further, as Thomas De Gendt took maximum points just ahead of Majka. By the bottom of the climb the break had a 4 minute lead again with the peloton still led by Astana.
With 60km to go AG2R La Mondiale joined Tinkoff at the front of the peloton as an injection of pace saw the break’s lead cut to 2.34mins. Up ahead though the breakaway was beginning to show the first signs of fragmenting. Vegard Breen was the first to drop back, but George Bennett was showing promising signs of being in good shape as he took over the pace setting at the front of the break with Pierre Rolland marking him. With 59km to go Rafal Majka began to break things up, sending Michael Matthews, Tony Martin and Laurens Ten Dam off the back of the break.
Dumoulin’s crash, one of many
Back in the bunch a crash brought down one of the stars of the race this year, Tom Dumoulin of GIANT-Alpecin. The two-time stage winner of this year’s race, who was denied a third win only by Chris Froome yesterday, was brought down and forced to abandon; reduced to tears by the side of the road.
The break’s advantage had been cut to just over 2 minutes as the group began to fragment just a little more with 6km to go until the summit of the Bisanne. Kiserlovski led the break up the climb as they looked to maintain that 2 minute lead ahead of the peloton. Emauel Buchman was the next to drop off the pace as the break continued to make their way up the HC mountain; with Kiserlovski still tapping out the pace. Jarlinson Pantano was visibly in strong condition, as were Rafal Majka and Alexis Vuillermoz; with George Bennett still ever present and keeping a watchful eye on things as the break disintegrated to just over 10 riders.
Heading up towards the summit of the climb Rafal Majka pulled away from the rest of the breakaway group to take maximum points at the top of the climb of the Monteé Bisanne. His points at the top all but guaranteed his win in the classification. All he needed to do now, like Peter Sagan, was finish in Paris and the classification would be his. George Bennett crossed the climb with the rest of the break and together they worked to hold off the peloton on the run in to the final climb of the stage; with the advantage at around the minute and a half margin.
Just over the summit of the climb a move went clear with Rui Costa and Pierre Rolland escaping off the front, they had a slender lead over the break as the rain came down. The conditions were going to be interesting, and they proved to be costly for Pierre Rolland who came down on a left hand bend, skidding along the road until he came to a stop in the mud. Rui Costa was left up ahead and with an advantage of 27 seconds over the chasers, with the peloton at 1.49mins, but the question was now what effect the conditions would have on the rest of the field.
BMC Racing began to make a move to challenge Astana for dominance at the front of the peloton; a signal that Richie Porte would be in an aggressive move on the final climb of the day. Going towards the bottom of the descent the rain had played havoc with the road surface, making things very slick indeed. It was something of an advantage for Costa who was able to pick his line comfortably and make use of the whole road; very helpful in the technical descent.
Bennett goes down, so does Froome
The slick conditions claimed their next victim in FDJ’s Sebastien Reichenbach who went down with a teammate, while up ahead the workers of Astana and BMC Racing found themselves off the front of the peloton with the GC contenders not wanting to take any chances. However, Richie Porte found himself off the back of the bunch once again, forced to come to a stop as a result of the crash apparently. He was quickly going again though and looked like he would comfortably regain contact with the peloton on the run in to the climb.
Rui Costa continued to lead the race, by now having an advantage of almost a minute with 30km left to race ahead of his previous breakaway companions. Meanwhile Richie Porte had the support of three teammates to try and bridge the 24 second deficit to the peloton. With 25km to go Daniel Navarro of Cofidis attacked out of the break, trying to bridge across to Rui Costa. Meanwhile with 24.7km to go Rafal Majka, Jarlinson Pantano, George Bennett and Tony Gallopin were all swept up by the bunch.
It was good news for Richie Porte, after his brief scare off the back, as he made contact with the peloton again with 23.5km to go. For now George Bennett was able to remain in the Froome group; sitting at the back and conserving his energy. There was no such energy conservation for Costa though who continued on with a minute lead ahead of the pack, with Navarro at 54 seconds and about to be brought back too. The catch to the Spaniard was made with 22km to go, leaving just Rui Costa to fend off the GC contenders of the Tour de France.
At the back of the bunch with 12km to go Dnaiel Navarro came off his bike, also taking down George Bennett in the process. Further down the road both Bauke Mollema and Chris Froome took a tumble; with the slick conditions playing havoc with the main field. Froome had to swap bikes with Geraint Thomas to get back racing again and faced a little chase to try and regain contact with the main field. While Rui Costa hit the 10km to go mark and the bottom of the final climb of the day, it remained to be seen whether the GC contenders would wait for the battered sight of the yellow jersey. They did, but one rider who was already attacking up the road was Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale, who held a minute’s lead over the main field as he started the climb.
Bardet attacks for France
Once Froome was back with the bunch it was game on and the field got stuck into tackling the tough lower slopes of the Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc. For now Froome was content to hang back as Astana led the way on the front of the bunch. Up ahead Romain Bardet was closing fast on Rui Costa who had 8.6km left to ride. Astana were putting on the pace at the front of the bunch now, but as yet there were no attacks coming from them. Richie Porte was poised and ready though, so too were the likes of Daniel Martin just behind them.
Meanwhile Bauke Mollema was battling to regain contact with the main field. He wasn’t having an easy time of it either, with no teammates to help him. With 7.7km to go Bardet made the catch with the advantage at 1.19mins. Astana had just one more rider in the lead group pace setting now, besides Aru; burning their matches but not able to put Froome or the other GC contenders under the necessary pressure just yet. For Mollema though it was beginning to look like it was game over in his quest for a podium finish in the Tour de France; with a 49 second deficit to make up to the main field.
With 6.5km to go the gap was coming down and sat at just 50 seconds. Chris Froome began moving up in the main field, a show of strength from the bruised maillot jaune and a signal that he was still in control despite his fall. He still had Wout Poels, his super domestique, right there with him. The pace in the main field was high, stretching the group out in one long line, and putting all the more pressure on poor Mollema who could only soldier on alone. Finally he had company in Jarlinson Pantano and Rafal Majka, but would they work with him or just make it to the finish?
With 5km to go BMC Racing’s Damiano Caruso surged to the front for Richie Porte, while Sergio Henao joined Wout Poels in front of Chris Froome and on the wheel of Porte. The gap to Romain Bardet and Rui Costa was now at 37 seconds and dropping. Bardet was doing the majority of the work, with Costa looking like he had little left in the tank.
Another surge from BMC Racing saw a little gap emerge between them and Sergio Henao, and Wout Poels. It forced Nairo Quintana to accelerate to bridge across, and shook Warren Barguil off the back of the group; with Adam Yates also on the back of the group and not sure whether he’d be able to hold on, with white jersey rival Louis Meintjes looking comfortable.
Next it was Daniel Martin of Etixx-Quick Step who attacked, with Team Sky now taking over the pace setting on the front of the GC group. He was chased by Porte and Quintana, with the Colombian just looking like he was marking the Tasmanian. Up ahead with 3.2km to go Bardet dropped Costa and pushed on with 32 seconds in hand. Daniel Martin’s effort was a strong one, but it was being brought back; but Adam Yates was now dropping off the back, with Meintjes still in contention in the group.
Joaquim Rodriguez led the field to catch Martin, with just Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Louis Meintjes, Richie Porte, Alejandro Valverde and Fabio Aru still able to remain of the GC contenders. Adam Yates was putting in a courageous ride to try and get on with the group, but under the 2km to go banner Richie Porte attacked again with Quintana again on his wheel. Aru pushed to get across but Wout Poels patiently led Froome back. Next to go was Aru as the gap to Bardet increased to 45 seconds with 1.5km to go. Aru’s attack came to naught with Porte chasing hard to keep up; while Yates managed to catch the group again.
General classification shaken up
With 1km to go it looked like Bardet would win France’s first stage of this year’s Tour. Aru was attacking still, with Movistar now coming to the fore in the chase with Alejandro Valverde pegging back the Italian. Yates was in trouble again, but so too now were Chris Froome, Wout Poels and Richie Porte who were paying for their efforts earlier. Meintjes was on the wheel of Quintana, with Daniel Martin also there. While Froome came back up towards the group, the hurt was beginning to show for Porte.
Up ahead though Bardet was visibly delighted as he came to the finish of the stage. He was going to win the stage, but also potentially put himself on the podium. Bardet finally crossed the line with Rodriguez and Valverde racing for second place in the steep final stages. They finished 23 seconds down on Bardet; with Louis Meintjes and Nairo Quintana completing the top five. With Chris Froome slapping the back of teammate Wout Poels 36 seconds down on Bardet; yellow safely in tact. Porte arrived home at 52 seconds with Yates just behind him; keeping hold of his white jersey. Sadly for Bauke Mollema though his podium place had gone up in smoke, Mollema crossed the line 4.25mins down on Bardet.
The result meant that in the GC battle Chris Froome was still firmly in the yellow jersey but now Romain Bardet was in second place overall at 4.11mins, while Nairo Quintana took third place from Adam Yates; with 9 seconds separating them. Richie Porte climbed up to fifth place ahead of Fabio Aru and Alejandro Valverde, with Louis Meintjes and Daniel Martin both climbing up a place. Sadly though for Bauke Mollema what was second place at the start of the day was now tenth place at the end; with a time gap of 7.42mins to the maillot jaune.