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by Matt de Neef
July 21, 2014
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) has taken his second stage victory in the 2014 Tour de France, outsprinting his rivals on a wet finish into Nimes. The day’s breakaway of Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) was caught heartbreakingly close of the finish line, with an exhausted Bauer overtaken less than 50m before the line.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished comfortably in the main field and will wear the yellow jersey for a 13th day when the Tour continues after tomorrow’s rest day.
After two action-filled days in the Alps, the Tour de France returned to the flatlands on stage 15 with a 222km stage from Tallard to Nimes. With no categorised climbs for the day it was billed as a day for the sprinters, but many predicted strong winds would tear the race apart in the closing kilometres.
Martin Elmiger (IAM) attacked from the start in Tallard and was joined by Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), the two being allowed up the road to forge the day’s breakaway. In 30km of racing the two leaders gained more than seven minutes on the peloton with the lead eventually peaking at 8:50. Before too long though Astana, Giant-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol started to lift the tempo at the front of the peloton and Elmiger and Bauer’s lead started to contract.
The gap came down to 5:30 with 138km still left to race, and fluctuated between 5:30 and 6:14 for the next 50km or so.
A slight change of direction with around 70km to go saw the race head into a crosswind with many riders losing contact as the pace increased in the main field. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and Richie Porte (Sky) were among those to get caught out, the last of those battling hard to regain contact and getting some assistance from an out-of-position motorbike.
The intensity in the peloton saw the break reduced to around four minutes before dipping to 2:30 just inside 60km to race. It was at that point that BMC came to the front of the field with an almost full squad, threatening to tear the main field apart in the wind. Overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) saw the danger and jumped across into the middle of the BMC train before being joined by his Astana teammates.
The efforts of BMC had strung the peloton out but the significant splits that were expected in the peloton didn’t really eventuate. The high tempo did see the two leaders’ advantage drop to 1:40 with 50km to race though, as the rain started to fall. But a slight easing of the pace shortly after allowed many of the riders who had been shelled from the peloton to rejoin.
The day’s intermediate sprint awaited the riders in La Galine with 46.5km of racing remaining. Martin Elmiger took maximum points in the breakaway ahead of Jack Bauer while back in the main field, Bryan Coquard (Europcar) took third, Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was fourth and points classification leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was fifth.
With 40km to go the gap to the two leaders was 1:30 but the peloton seemed happy to let the two leaders have a bit more latitude, the gap pushing back out to 2:10 with 30km remaining. Their advantage was back to 1:40 with 25km left to race as Giant-Shimano took up the chase, the riders passing under very dark skies with heavy rain still falling.
With a little over 22km remaining Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) put in what could best be described as an ambitious attack. Behind him the peloton was increasing its workrate to catch the two leaders up the road, and Kwiatkowski’s move didn’t last much more than 5km.
The gap to Elmiger and Bauer was down to a minute with 15km to go as Lotto-Belisol and Giant-Shimano shared the pacemaking. The rain had stopped but standing water on the road meant the many roundabouts on the approach to the finish would prove hazardous to the riders.
With 7km left the gap was down to 40 seconds but it wasn’t falling as fast as the teams of the sprinters might have liked. Lotto-Belisol had done virtually all of the work in the previous 10km but each of the roundabouts on the approach seemed to work in the favour of the compact, two-rider breakaway.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep came to the front with about 5km to go before their time trial specialist Tony Martin attacked with Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) on his wheel. They were caught a kilometre later before Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) tried his luck with 3.3km to go. At that point the two leaders still had 30 seconds and it seemed as if they might hold on for victory, against all the odds.
Bakelants was soon caught but Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s flurry of attacks continued. Tony Martin tried to get clear again but was ultimately swept up as the peloton approached the final kilometre, the gap still beyond 10 seconds.
With just 500m left to race the outcome was still in the balance. It was a stage the sprinters should have won but a defiant ride from Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger looked like it might foil the fastmen’s plans.
Elmiger began his sprint first with Bauer coming out of the Swiss rider’s slipstream in a final dash for the line. Behind the pair the sprinters in the main field were just about to make contact with the front of the race. Elmiger was swept up as the sprinters flew past and Bauer wasn’t able to match the kick of the fast finishers, getting caught just 50m from the line.
In the end it was Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who led the dash to the line, taking his second stage win of the race ahead of Heinrich Haussler (IAM) and Peter Sagan. It was Sagan’s 10th top-10 finish in 15 stages. Bauer crossed the line in 10th, the New Zealander looking completely shattered physically and emotionally.
Noticeably absent from the final sprint was Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) who ended up 11th on the stage. His team had done much of the early pacemaking but weren’t present on the front of the main field in the closing kilometres; a sight we’ve become accustomed to seeing throughout this Tour.
Peter Sagan still has a comfortable lead in the points classification, Joaquim Rodrigeuez maintains his lead in the KOM classification after the flat stage, and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) will spend yet another day in the white jersey of the best young rider.
The riders will now enjoy a second and final rest day ahead of Tuesday’s stage 16, the longest stage of the race at 237.5km. The stage features five climbs as the riders enter the Pyrenees, including the hors categorie Port du Bales climb which peaks 21.5km from the finish.
– Stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash
– Stage 2: Vincenzo Nibali wins in Sheffield and takes Tour lead overall
– Stage 3: Marcel Kittel doubles up in London, Nibali holds on to yellow
– Stage 4: Marcel Kittel claims his third stage as Vincenzo Nibali defends yellow
– Stage 5: Lars Boom wins on the cobbles of stage 5 as Chris Froome crashes out
– Stage 6: Andre Greipel sprints to victory on stage 6, Nibali holds steady in yellow
– Stage 7: Matteo Trentin wins in a photo finish, Nibali secures a sixth day in yellow
– Stage 8: Blel Kadri solos to stage 8 victory, Nibali holds lead after GC shakeup
– Stage 9: Tony Martin takes solo win as Tony Gallopin rides into yellow
– Stage 10: Nibali takes back yellow as Contador crashes out of the Tour de France
– Stage 11: Gallopin wins stage 11 of Le Tour after a perfectly timed late attack
– Stage 12: Kristoff sprints to his first Tour de France stage win into Saint-Etienne
– Stage 13: Nibali climbs to a third stage win and stamps his authority on Le Tour
– Stage 14: Rafal Majka claims to stage 14 win in his first Tour de France