Statistically, the long-range breakaway’s not a great place to be – the teams gunning for the stage win from the peloton behind almost invariably have a numerical advantage and the motivation to drive the catch, while those up the road wilt after a hard day’s efforts. But some days are made for the breakaway. Stage 14 – with an Alps-weary peloton, and a lack of GC threats in the large, well-constituted breakaway group ahead of them – was one of those days.
Crosswind and open roads meant a feisty start to the day’s racing, splitting the peloton into echelons. Those caught out scrambled to bring it back together and, content with that flurry of exertion, the Team Sky-controlled peloton settled into a long lumpy day through the stunning Massif Central. Meanwhile, a Julian Alaphilippe-forced breakaway rode away from the bunch. With 158km remaining, a group of 32 riders were up the road with a fast-growing gap to an increasingly disinterested peloton. By stage’s end, a 20 minute gap would separate the two.
The final climb of the day, a painfully steep 3km rise to the Mende aerodrome and the stage finish, loomed large on the minds of those vying for stage honours. Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) took a flyer from a small group off the front of the breakaway, carrying an advantage of a minute and a half at the foot of the climb and began the grind to the top. Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and then Omar Fraile (Astana) took off in pursuit, followed by Alaphilippe. The effort writ across his face, Fraile worked his way up to a flagging Stuyven and then past him, carrying a gap of a few seconds over Stuyven and Alaphilippe at the top of the climb. That was enough to hold over the final 2km for the stage win, with Alaphilippe, Stuyven and (amazingly enough) Peter Sagan rounding out the top four.
20 minutes later, it was the peloton’s turn. Primoz Roglic (Lotto NL-Jumbo) was the first of the big hitters to make a move, slipping off the front and staying away. Behind, the top three on GC – Thomas, Froome and Dumoulin – rode to the line together with attacks and counter-attacks neutralised.