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HUY, Belgium (CT) – Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has climbed to victory on a crash-affected third stage of the 2015 Tour de France, attacking on the Mur de Huy climb and holding off Chris Froome (Sky) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale) to secure the win.
Rodriguez made his move with 400m to go on the steep 1.3km climb — an ascent made famous by La Fleche Wallonne — and was able to hold off a late charge by Froome to take his second Tour de France stage win.
Froome’s second place was enough to see him move into the overall lead, the 2013 Tour winner putting more time into his main GC rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“I’m just really happy to be in the yellow jersey at this point,” Froome said after the stage. “It was very unexpected – I was hoping to be up there today but really happy to have come second and put more time into my GC-contender rivals.”
Overnight leader Fabian Cancellara (Trek) came in nearly 12 minutes after Rodriguez having being involved in a dramatic crash with a little less than 60km to go on the stage. The crash saw four riders abandon the stage and many more finish with injuries sustained in the incident.
Despite being in considerable pain and appearing groggy after hitting the deck, Cancellara was able to continue, benefiting from a rare stage neutralisation by race directors. Indeed, the race was stopped for some time as medical staff treated the wounded and Cancellara was allowed to catch back up to the bunch.
“It is very, very nervous out there,” Froome said of conditions in the peloton. “I think everyone’s just trying to get through the best they can; everyone’s doing a job for their team leaders. It’s a big battle for position.”
Earlier in the stage a four-rider breakaway built a lead of nearly four minutes but they were reabsorbed by the peloton at the time as they stage was neutralised.
How it unfolded
After two days of extreme weather conditions – blistering heat on stage 1 and rain and wind on stage 2 – the riders began stage 3 of the Tour de France in perfect conditions in the Belgian city of Antwerp.
Four riders got clear in the opening kilometres – Bryan Nauleau (Europcar), Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka), Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) — and set about building an advantage. For Barta, it was his second breakaway in as many days, a move that would net him the most aggressive rider award on the stage.
With the peloton taking it easy in the summer sunshine, the leading quartet was able to get 3:55 up the road after 40km of racing. The gap stabilised at 3:20 after 50km before starting to come down gradually.
By the time 90km had been completed and a touch under 70km remained, the four leaders had only 1:40 and the stage appeared to be unfolding in standard fashion, the break set to be caught in the lead-up to the Mur de Huy.
But with 58.8km to the finish, and the four leaders just 15 seconds ahead of the main bunch, a huge crash changed the complexion of the stage.
After clipping the wheel of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), William Bonnet (FDJ) hit the ground, starting a chain reaction that saw more than 20 riders crash. Many were injured in the incident, some slid into a light pole by the side of the road, and four riders abandoned — Bonnet, white-jersey wearer Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), former Australian champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Dmitry Kozontchuk (Katusha).
With Fabian Cancellara appearing dazed and in pain by the side of the road, and all medical staff busy treating injured riders, race organisers took the unusual step of neutralising the race (and, with it, the race’s first climb: the Cote de Bohissau).
The bunch was first slowed by race director Christian Prudhomme before Sky wound up the pace, much to the frustration of fellow riders.
“The commissaires had said to us the race was back on and it was just going into one of the critical moments of the race,” Froome said in his post-race press conference. “So when it was race back on we started racing again. Simple as that.
“It was about two or three minutes later the commissaires decided to neutralise the race again. That’s all that happened there.”
Organisers soon stopped the race altogether as an injured Cancellara eventually made it through the convoy to the back of the main field. Somewhere in the chaos the four leaders were absorbed into the main field.
In all, the race was either stopped and/or neutralised for more than 20 minutes before the riders, somewhat timidly, started riding again.
It was with 46km to the finish that the race started again in earnest, with Cannondale-Garmin working at the front. And then, roughly 5km later, Tinkoff-Saxo managed to split the peloton, as Chris Froome (Sky) was caught out behind. The rest of the ‘Big Four’ – Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana — all made it to the right side of the split.
The high pace, combined with the Swiss rider’s injuries, saw Cancellara dropped from the second group on the road, his time in yellow coming to an end. Most of the big favourites had made the split and by 35.2 to go the gap was out to 18 seconds.
Four riders bridged across to the lead group of 20 to 30 riders with 32.2km remaining – Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) — but their move would be of little value.
Soon after the day’s only intermediate sprint — won by stage 2 winner Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) with 31.5km to the finish — the lead group and the peloton all came back together.
With 17.8km left to race, on the fourth-category Cote d’Ereffe, Europcar’s Angelo Tulik (Europcar) tried his hand off the front. An acceleration from Richie Porte (Sky) quickly neutralised the move.
Nine kilometres from the finish Tinkoff-Saxo and Etixx-Quick-Step were driving the pace, and when Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) lifted the tempo on the Cote de Cherave with 6.6km to race, many riders found themselves in difficulty. Chris Froome bumped shoulders with a rider beside him on the climb but was able to continue on unscathed.
On the lead-in to the final climb, the Mur de Huy, newly crowned Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) broke clear of a considerably reduced lead group, attempting to get a head-start on the climb. He began the Mur de Huy with a gap of a few metres but was quickly swamped as Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) set a fast tempo that shelled plenty of riders.
After bumping shoulders with another rider with 500m to go, Froome moved to the front of the race but it was Rodriguez that launched the first meaningful move. The Spaniard burst clear as Froome and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) led the chase.
Sustained pressure on the pedals saw Rodriguez open a meaningful gap on the chasers, forcing Froome, with his familiar, high-cadence style, to attempt to bridge across. The Kenyan-born Brit was able to come close to the back wheel of Rodriguez as the 2012 Fleche Wallonne winner crossed the line, Froome having done enough to ride himself into yellow overall.
Behind Froome, Vuillermoz was the best of the rest, as the remainder of the GC riders filtered across the line.
Froome now leads Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) by one second on the general classification while Tejay van Garderen (BMC) is third, 13 seconds behind Froome. Alberto Contador is the only other big GC favourite in the top-10, sitting eighth, 36 seconds behind Froome. Nibali is 1:38 in arrears while Quintana is another 18 seconds back.
The race continues tomorrow with the much-anticipated fourth stage from Seraing to Cambrai. The 223.5km stage is the longest of the Tour and features 13.3km of cobblestones over seven sectors. Froome told reporters he’s happy to be in yellow ahead of what could be another testing stage.
“I’d much rather be in this position that have to make up time on my rivals,” Froome said. “I think the yellow jersey will give myself and all my teammates a big boost going into tomorrow’s stage.”
Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) remains in the green jersey as leader of the points classification while Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) moves into the white jersey as leader of the best-young rider classification. In addition to his stage win, Rodriguez will get the honour of wearing the polka dot jersey of KOM classification leader on stage 4. BMC will continue to wear the yellow helmets as leaders of the teams classification.
Tour de France (2.UWT) Antwerpen → Huy
BMC Racing Team