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It was a day on which anything could have happened. And while, quite frankly, I didn’t expect much to happen, we were treated to another stellar sporting display with two races being hard-fought until the finish.
It was a stage that was touted as one for a breakaway and it only took a few kilometres for the pieces to start falling into place. A flurry of attacks saw a group of 32 form ahead of the peloton before a group of 26 riders got in the final break which stuck.
Often a group that big won’t work together to stay away but almost every team had at least one rider represented which formed the perfect combination to stay away. The closest rider to the overall leader in Chris Froome was Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) who started the stage in 20th overall, 23’26” behind on GC.
The escape bunch worked well together until 35km to go, at which point all bets were off. Jean Marc Marino (Sojasun) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r) leapt off the front and were soon joined by the Adam Hansen freight train. Rui Costa caught the leaders and surged ahead on the final climb of the day for an 18km solo win — a consolation for Movistar which has enjoyed little success so far this Tour.
Costa’s win was Portugal’s second victory in Gap in four years, after Sergio Paulinho’s victory in 2010.
But after Costa crossed the line we were treated to another race between the GC contenders ten minutes back. With 18km remaining on the final climb (Col de Manse) Contador attacked which prompted Richie Porte to shut the move down. With Contador back in the group, Saxo Tinkoff went the 1-2 with Kreuziger attacking … and Porte shutting it down again.
Meanwhile the high pace and the attacks had whittled down the yellow jersey bunch to eight riders (Froome, Porte, Contador, Kreuziger, Quintana, Valverde, Rodriguez, and Mollema) with Laurens Ten Dam being the only real GC contender to fall off the pace. More attacks from the Saxo duo saw Porte start to lose touch, but miraculously he managed to claw his way back.
It was after the GC bunch crested the Col de Manse that the action really started. Contador and Kreuziger began attacking on the descent leading to the former overshooting a corner and crashing lightly, almost bringing Froome with him. Interestingly, this incident happened on the same descent on which Joseba Belokia famously crashed in 2003, forcing Lance Armstrong to take a detour through a nearby field.
Froome was clearly irritated by Contador’s downhill attacks and said in the post-race TV interview:
“I think it was actually a bit careless of Contador and Kreuziger, they were really pushing the limits on the descent in trying to attack us. Alberto overcooked one of the corners and came off in front of me. He just took himself down.
I nearly went over him. I had to get around him and went off the road a little bit. I didn’t come off but I just had to unclip and get myself straightened up again and rejoin the race.
I just think at this stage of the race, he is obviously getting desperate. They are attacking on us on the descents and attacking us on the climbs. I just think it was careless to ride like that.”
This thrilling race-within-the-race benefited nobody except for Quintana who moved up one position into fifth place overall with Ten Dam dropping one minute on the leaders.