Wout Van Aert of Jumbo-Visma has won his first stage of the Tour de France. The Belgian sprinted to the win ahead of Elia Viviani and Caleb Ewan, further cementing his status as one of the most exciting finds of the season.
The 217.5km between Saint-Flour and Albi were lumpy at first but then after a couple of early climbs they were actually more downhill than uphill. The sprinters had an opportunity and they were keen to take it. That didn’t stop a breakaway featuring Anthony Turgis of Total Direct Energie, Natnael Berhane of Cofidis, Michael Schar of CCC Team, Mads Wurtz Schmidt of Katusha-Alpecin, Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale and Odd Christian Eiking of Wanty-Gobert from forming. The group were not given a huge amount of freedom during the stage with Kasper Asgreen of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Tony Martin of Jumbo-Visma and Lotto Soudal’s Maxime Monfort sharing the chase duties between them.
With 180km to go the break’s lead was sitting just below 2.30mins and from there the gap didn’t slowly grew beyond 2.45mins, nudging the 3 minute bracket just slightly. The gap was never allowed a lot more room, with their lead down to 1.30mins with 80km to go and the peloton clearly hungry for the stage for their sprinters. That lead continued to drop to 1 minute with 54km to go
Jumbo-Visma were well positioned with 43km remaining. The team were in command of the peloton alongside EF Education First; but all the action was about to kick off.
Originally it was EF Education First who put the hammer down, trying to force a split in the peloton as the race reached the crosswinds. Tom Scully was right there as a 6-strong pink train drilled the bunch and succeeded in forcing a little split in the bunch. It was inconvenient for George Bennett who, true to his status as a domestique for the Jumbo-Visma team, was on his way back to the peloton after collecting bidons from the team car. With the pace so high there was a serious risk that those bidons might not find a home; and that he might not have 4th place at the end of the day.
Their move didn’t succeed, but another attack was waiting in the wings and it was Deceuninck-Quick Step’s maillot jaune, Julian Alaphilippe, in cohorts with Team Ineos who were up for the challenge. The pressure eventually told as Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal’s men powered their way forward alongside the yellow jersey and Nairo Quintana of Movistar who was having a very strong stage.
The time gap to the breakaway completely evaporated by the time the race reached 25km to go, with a number of groups forming on the road including a trailing group that featured none other than Thibaut Pinot who began the stage 3rd overall. George Bennett was also trailing as the peloton continued to climb the time gaps continued to open up. With 20km to go the Pinot group were 30 seconds behind, but George Bennett found himself alone and with a deficit of 1.34mins that was not showing any signs of letting up.
Sadly for Bennett there was nothing to be done as the teams ahead of him collaborated together. The one saving grace for Bennett was that his leader, Kruijswijk was perfectly positioned and looking at moving up the overall standings as Bennett moved down. There would be a number of riders dropping down in the GC, with Mikel Landa also suffering and losing time overall as Team Ineos executed a relentless effort that was moving both Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal into podium positions.
Still the time gaps grew, with Pinot losing 1.05mins and Bennett upwards of 4.31mins with 5km to go.
As the finish line neared Team Sunweb took control of the remnants of the peloton as they looked to set up Michael Matthews for the win. Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan were perfectly positioned to strike, however, with Wout Van Aert sat on Sagan’s wheel. In the sprint for the line Sunweb looked to lead out but they were swamped from behind. Caleb Ewan looked like he might get it this time, but Wout Van Aert and Elia Viviani had the pace to contest the win between them; with the former making history for himself, with a first grand tour stage win in a young road career.
It was the fourth stage win for the team, achieved by three different riders. But from here the clock continued to tick over.
Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Uran, Richie Porte, Jakob Fuglsang, all lost 1.40mins, with Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru among those losing 2.09mins. George Bennett finally crossed the line 9.41mins back, but with the overall situation safe with Steven Kruijswijk up to 4th overall at 1.27mins.