Elia Viviani has his first career stage win at the Tour de France. The Italian took the win ahead of Alexander Kristoff and Caleb Ewan with Julian Alaphilippe maintaining his overall lead.
The next earnestly sprint-oriented stage of this year’s Tour de France saw the field take on 213.5km of racing starting in Reims and finishing in Nancy. The stage featured two category 4 climbs, making the KOM jersey safe on the shoulders of Tim Wellens regardless of what happened.
A breakaway group of three went up the road early and were quickly given the blessing of the peloton. In the move were Wanty-Gobert Cycling’s Frederik Backaert and Yoann Offredo alongside Michael Schär of CCC Team. For Schär it was the first opportunity to make good on the pre-Tour expectation of the team to be aggressive without a GC contender.
It didn’t take long for the break’s lead to grow to 3 minutes, but it was interesting that the peloton weren’t prepared to offer up any more time to the trio, with the break’s lead holding at around the 3-3.15min for a good chunk of the day. Deceuninck-Quick Step, Jumbo-Visma, Lotto Soudal and Astana were all among the outfits leading matters at the front of the peloton and it was going to be interesting to see how Deceuninck-Quick Step played the stage with the maillot jaune of Julian Alaphilippe in their ranks along with a pre-stage favourite in Elia Viviani.
As the stage progressed it was Jumbo-Visma and Lotto Soudal who took prime responsibility for holding the break’s lead in place and only allowing it to briefly nudge up towards 3.30mins. Tony Martin was at the front for Jumbo-Visma with George Bennett not taking the primary role at the front of the race this time. He was, however, very close to the front of the action, sitting around sixth or seventh wheel with around 135km to go.
With 100km remaining the breakaway trio continued to lead with a 3.06min advantage but as the race reached 80km to go that lead slowly dissipated to the 2.30min bracket with the peloton determined not to miss their chance for the sprinters. At the intermediate sprint it was Backaert who took maximum points ahead of Schär and Offredo, while back in the peloton Elia Viviani darted through the riders to take fourth place ahead of Sony Colbrelli and Peter Sagan.
The acceleration in pace had taken a chunk of the break’s lead away, bringing their advantage down to just over 1.30mins. Rather than climb back out, the peloton opted to slowly continue to chip away at that lead, bringing the break to within 1 minute at 45km to go. The pace in the peloton was very much rising with a number of teams contesting for the front of the peloton. Dimension Data, Lotto Soudal, Jumbo-Visma, UAE Team Emirates, Astana, Arkea Samsic, Total Direct Energie, Groupama-FDJ and Mitchelton-SCOTT were all at the front of the field, making good use of the reasonably wide roads.
With 33km to go Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ came to a halt with a front wheel puncture. He would make it back to the peloton without too much difficulty as the peloton sat 40 seconds behind the break with 28km left to race. Out of the break Backaert and Schär were the last to be caught, with Offredo dropping back to the peloton. With 18km to go Backaert would be caught as Jumbo-Visma, BORA-Hansgrohe and Astana pushed the tempo at the front of the race. Schär was finally caught with 16km to go by Team Sunweb who had arrive en masse at the front of the race.
The red jerseys drilled the pace at the front of the race, looking to potentially set up Michael Matthews in the sprint for the line. It wasn’t an electric pace to shake off riders in the peloton, but it was enough to assert some control until they suddenly relented, leading to a stalemate of sorts at the head of the race. That let up in pace saw Lilian Calmejane of Total Direct Energie go on the attack in an audacious solo move that gave him the lead through 7km to go as the sprint teams looked to get organised behind him. Lotto Soudal looked to be the most organised of the teams and they headed up the chase with Dimension Data that finally caught up with Calmejane with 6km left to race.
With 5km to go Team Ineos surged to the front to protect Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. It was a smart tactical move as they were able to shut down the approach of Groupama-FDJ while not impeding the likes of Team Sunweb and UAE Team Emirates who were more concerned about the sprint. Dimension Data hit the front of the race with 2km to go and looked promising for Giacomo Nizzolo or Edvald Basson Hagen; but a massive surge forward from Wout Van Aert saw Jumbo-Visma take over on the front with Mike Teunissen in tow.
After seemingly being rather absent, however, suddenly Deceuninck-Quick Step emerged at the front behind Edvald Boasson Hagen in the last kilometre. Viviani found himself perfectly placed to sprint, third wheel with Alexander Kristoff and Caleb Ewan around him. Viviani hit for home with Alexander Kristoff enjoying a marginal lead. The Italian powered forwards though, taking the win by a narrow margin ahead of Kristoff, with Caleb Ewan just getting the better of Peter Sagan for third; with Dylan Groenewegen and Mike Teunissen 5th and 6th.
Kiwis George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma and Patrick Bevin of CCC Team finished in the main field, with Tom Scully crossing the line a few minutes later with the likes of Tony Martin and Michael Schär; his job done earlier in the stage.