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by Matt de Neef
July 16, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
CAUTERETS, France (CT) – Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) has won stage 11 of the 2015 Tour de France, attacking from the day’s main breakaway group and winning solo into Cauterets.
The Pole made his move from a seven-rider lead group on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet, 48km from the finish, and rode solo to the line.
“Today was not a big objective to win the stage but I had an opportunity,” Majka said. “I only one time attacked and it was a good attack.”
“When I was ahead 45 seconds my director sportif told me ‘Rafal, go, because the group is stopping’. I don’t need to wait for my teammates and I [gave it] everything to win the stage.”
Majka crossed the line one minute ahead of former breakaway companion Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) while German champion Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18) finished third, 23 seconds behind Martin.
The victory is Majka’s third stage win at the Tour de France after winning two stages in last year’s edition of the race. He dedicated today’s victory to a number of people, including teammate Ivan Basso who left the race on the first rest day after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
“This victory is good for morale for the team … and also for Ivan Basso and Daniele Bennati who crashed today and also my family and my wife who give me a lot of power.”
The first few hours of racing were very aggressive as many riders fought to get in the day’s breakaway. It took more than 75km for a move to a stick, with the aggression to that point — plus the heat — putting many riders in difficulty.
“I’ve got to say the first two hours today were brutal and it’s a shame that there isn’t more [TV] coverage of that part of the race because that’s really exciting racing,” overall leader Chris Froome said after the stage. “That’s where everyone’s attacking, everyone’s on the limit. Who can actually stay in the group? Who can control the front of the race?”
Froome (Sky) finished today’s stage in ninth place, more than five minutes down on Majka after a group featuring the main GC favourites splintered in the final kilometres before the finish line.
Froome retains his place atop the leaderboard after the stage and the only change to the top 10 overall is Bauke Mollema (Trek) who moves into 10th at the expense of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Mollema had attacked with 1.1km to go and opened up a small lead on the rest of the GC group to finish seventh.
It was a warm day in Pau as the riders set off for stage 11 of the 2015 Tour de France, a 188km slog through the Pyrenees with six categorised climbs along the way.
The first break of the day featured four riders — Lieuwa Westra (Astana), world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step), Bob Jungels (Trek) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) — but they were brought back after 47km thanks to some concerted chasing from Cannondale-Garmin in a frantic first hour of racing (48km/h).
On the third-category Côte de Loucup climb that followed, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) lead Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) over the line before the peloton split in two.
Roughly 60 riders comprised the front group — including maillot jaune Chris Froome — but the groups would come back together, soon after the intermediate sprint in Pouzac after 56.5km of racing.
Matteo Trentin (Etixx-Quick-Step) took maximum points but second place went to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), enough to see the Slovakian move back into the lead in the points classification.
On the fourth-category Côte de Bagnères-de-Bigorre, 61.5km in, Steve Morabito (FDJ) took the one KOM point on offer before the bunch descended towards the third climb of the day.
The kilometres that followed the Côte de Bagnères-de-Bigorre saw much aggression at the front of the peloton, with many small lead groups forming and being reabsorbed by the peloton. Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) took maximum points from one of these groups on the third category Côte de Mauvezin, after 74.5km, but the race was soon back together again.
The next break to get away was the one that stuck. Thomas Voeckler (Eruopcar), Rafal Majka and Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) were the first to get up the road and they were soon joined by Steve Morabito, Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18), Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Julien Simon (Cofidis).
At the halfway point in the stage, after 94km, the seven leaders were 4:10 ahead of a Sky-led peloton, the bunch finally willing to relax and let a group go clear. A few kilometres later, Dan Martin showed his intention of joining the leaders, attacking the peloton and starting his trek across the gap.
The Irishman was briefly joined by Astana’s Andriy Grivko but the Ukranian couldn’t match Martin’s pace on the first-category Col d’Aspin climb and soon dropped back to the bunch.
With 75km to race, on the Col d’Aspin, Arnaud Demare was dropped from the break and a little more than a kilometre later, Dan Martin made contact with the group Demare had just left. At that point the peloton appeared to have let the breakaway take the stage, the gap out to more than seven minutes.
Martin would soon attack the break to take maximum KOM points at the top of the Col d’Aspin — with 71km to race — before the seven leaders descended towards the base of the Col du Tourmalet together. By the time the peloton reached the top of the Aspin they were eight minutes behind the leaders.
Young Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was dropped from the peloton a short time later, apparently suffering in the heat, and while he’d rejoin the peloton briefly, he soon disappeared out the back again.
Arnaud Demare caught up to the leaders on the descent to the start of the Tourmalet but was soon dropped again when the road headed up. Behind the seven leaders, Sky and Astana were increasing the tempo on the lower slopes of the Tourmalet, reducing their deficit in the process. With 50km to go, the gap was down to 6:42 as the high pace continued to tear the peloton apart.
Rafal Majka made his race-winning move from the breakaway with 48km to go — and with 7km to the top of the Tourmalet — as the rest of the breakaway group splintered on the tough climb. Astana’s work in the peloton had thinned the group down to only 30 riders as the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) were dropped.
With 43km to go the peloton was down to just 14 riders — Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte (Sky); Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (Movistar); Vincenzo Nibali and Tanel Kangert (Astana); Tejay van Garderen and Sammy Sanchez (BMC); Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo); Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal); Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo); Bauke Mollema (Trek); and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) — as Majka remained roughly 5:30 ahead.
Majka crested the Col du Tourmalet alone and by the time the yellow jersey group did the same roughly 5:30 had passed and the peloton was down to 12 riders. Between Majka and the peloton were several members of the original breakaway, chasing hard to get on terms with Majka.
The Pole pushed hard on the serpentine descent towards Luz-Saint-Sauveur, nearly overshooting a couple corners in the process. Meanwhile, several riders were able to use the long descent to rejoin the peloton.
With 10km left to race, at the base of the day’s final categorised climb, Majka was roughly a minute ahead of Serge Pauwels, two minutes ahead of Dan Martin and Emanuel Buchmann, and six minutes ahead of the Richie Porte-led peloton.
Five kilometres from the line Majka had extended his advantage on all bar Dan Martin, who had dropped Emanuel Buchmann and was closing in on Serge Pauwels.
Martin made contact with the Belgian with 3.6km to go and immediately attacked, riding away to second place. Buchmann would finish third, followed by fellow escapees Pauwels, Voeckler and then Simon.
In the yellow jersey group, Bauke Mollema attacked with 1.1km to race, putting some time between himself and the rest of the team leaders. In doing so he would ride his way into 10th overall.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) crossed the line two seconds ahead of a 10-rider group containing Froome, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Tejay van Garderen (BMC). Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was dropped when Mollema made his move and lost another 50 seconds to Froome and the other GC leaders.
The Tour de France continues tomorrow with a 195km stage from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille with four challenging climbs along the way. The stage-ending climb to Plateau de Beille is 15.8km long with an average gradient of 7.9%.
Peter Sagan will be back in the green jersey of points classification leader, Nairo Quintana will spend another day in the best young rider’s white jersey, and Richie Porte will again wear the polka dot jersey in lieu of teammate Chris Froome (who leads the KOM classification as well as the general classification). Sky will again wear the yellow helmets of team classification leaders.