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VALENCE, France (CT) – Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) has claimed a third stage win at the 2015 Tour de France, winning the stage 15 bunch sprint in Valence ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) was fourth, taking his 10th top-five finish in 13 road stages at this year’s Tour.
Greipel was the first to launch his sprint, punching off Kristoff’s wheel with 250 metres to go. While Degenkolb was well-placed in his compatriot’s slipstream, he wasn’t able to come around Greipel who powered to the line for another stage win.
“I knew it was going to be bit [of a] headwind but I tried to not get boxed in,” Greipel said. “When I saw the 250 metre marker I just went for it. [At] first my 11[-tooth gear] didn’t go on but in the last 100 metres the 11 went on and I was really happy that my chain was in a good mood.”
Earlier in the day a group of nine riders formed the day’s longest breakaway, attacking from an earlier 27-rider group as the peloton closed in behind. Matteo Trentin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) combined off the front of that group in the final 50km but they, like the rest of the breakaway, were caught, the race all back together with 29km to go.
For Greipel, today’s stage was a case of getting through the almost-all-uphill first 18km, then staying with the bunch over the remaining climbs.
“The first 18km everything went through my mind like ‘ok you have to hang on here otherwise it will be hard to stay in the time limit’,” Greipel said.
“There were 24 guys up the road — at this moment I didn’t expect a bunch sprint. But Katusha was chasing pretty hard to make a bunch sprint possible.”
The result was a day that was much harder than many expected. Overall leader Chris Froome (Sky) would go on to finish safely in the lead bunch but spoke after the stage about just how difficult the stage had been.
“On paper it looked like quite a straightforward, easy day for the sprinters but that was full-gas all day,” Froome said. “It didn’t stop, it didn’t let up; even trying to get bottles from the car was difficult today because the pace was just on all day.”
With six stages left in the Tour, Froome maintains a three minute and 10 second advantage over second-placed Nairo Quintana (Movistar) while Tejay van Garderen (BMC) is another 22 seconds down in third.
How the stage unfolded
It was another hot transition stage at the 2015 Tour de France as the riders made their way 183km north-east from Mende to Valence. There were four climbs on the menu, including the third category Côte de Badaroux which peaked just 9.5km into the stage. Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) took two KOM points at the top while Lieuwe Westra (Astana) took the one remaining point on offer.
By the time the Côte de Badaroux was behind the riders — and the likes of Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) had been dropped — a group of 27 had broken clear of the main peloton and was trying to build a meaningful advantage. They would get as much as 45 seconds clear inside the first 20km — almost all of which was uphill — but with Katusha chasing hard in support of Alexander Kristoff, the large group wouldn’t last long.
With the gap down to 20 seconds, after roughly 32km of racing, three riders — Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) – broke clear of the lead group, keen to stay ahead of the bunch. They were soon joined by another six riders — Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Michal Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) — creating a nine-rider group at the head of affairs.
With eight of the nine riders up front rolling through (Lars Bak was sitting on, hoping the race would go to a bunch sprint for Greipel) the break had a lead of 1:35 with 57km covered.
Thibaut Pinot took the one KOM point on offer at the Col du Bez after 69.5km, and Michael Rogers took one point at the Col de la Croix de Bauzon another four kilometres up the road.
Team Sky and Movistar gave Katusha a hand with the chase as the peloton reached the latter of the two climbs. On the long, twisty descent towards Jaujac the riders had to contend with wet roads following a brief shower but all riders appeared to get through unscathed.
With 91km covered and 92km to go, the nine leaders had a lead of 2:20 as Team Sky continued the chase. With 80km to go, the gap was out to three minutes, but that was soon reduced when Rogers had a flat and the break waited for him.
With a lead-out from Rogers, Peter Sagan was able to win the intermediate sprint with 75km to go, further extending his lead in the points classification.
Katusha’s determined chase reduced the leaders’ advantage to roughly 1:50 with 70km to race as the day’s biggest climb loomed. Thibaut Pinot took maximum points atop the second-category Col de l’Escrinet ahead of Hesjedal, Kwiatkowski and Trentin before the last of those riders broke clear of the lead group on the descent.
Forty kilometres from the line, with all of the day’s categorised climbs complete, Trentin had a 20-second gap over a hard-chasing Ryder Hesjedal, 40 seconds over the rest of the breakaway and 1:05 over the peloton. The remnants of the breakaway were soon caught while Hesjedal and Trentin joined forces at the front with 37km to the line.
With Katusha, Europcar and Lotto Soudal all contributing to the chase, Trentin and Hesjedal were reabsorbed by the bunch with 29km to race, setting things up for a bunch sprint.
BMC were active at the front of the bunch with 10km to go before a series of attacks in the closing stages, including from world champion Michal Kwiatkowski. It wasn’t until stage 6 winner Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step) attacked with 3.4km to go that it looked like a move might survive.
The Czech rider opened a sizeable lead as the finish approached, but with BMC, Katusha and Lotto Soudal working hard to close the gap, Stybar was caught with 1.1km to go.
The sprinters came to the fore inside the final kilometre with John Degenkolb and Sagan bumping shoulders with 500 metres to the line. MTN-Qhubeka made its presence felt with 300m to the line, pulling Edvald Boasson Hagen into position, but it was Andre Greipel who launched first, holding off all-comers to the line.
The stage ahead
The 2015 Tour de France continues tomorrow with the final stage before the second rest day — a challenging 201km from Bourg de Péage to Gap featuring two second-category climbs. The latter of those climbs, the Col de Manse, peaks 12km from the line after 8.9km of climbing and is likely to prove decisive.
Chris Froome will again be in the yellow leader’s jersey and Peter Sagan will enjoy another day in the green jersey courtesy of a 44-point lead in the points classification. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) will again wear the polka dot jersey in lieu of KOM classification leader Chris Froome while Nairo Quintana (Movistar) retains a nearly eight-minute lead in the best young rider classification. Movistar again leads the teams classification.
Tour de France (2.UWT) Mende → Valence