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The last time the Tour de France included the Mûr-de-Bretagne — the wall of Brittany — Irish climber Dan Martin was caught in a bad position, hesitated a bit too long, and finished second behind Ag2r La Mondiale’s Alexis Vuillermoz, banging his handlebar across the finish line in frustration.
That was in 2015, when Martin was riding for Cannondale-Garmin. Three years later, riding for UAE-Team Emirates, the roles were reversed as Martin attacked early, at 1.1km to go — and into a headwind — and held off all challengers, finishing one second ahead of Ag2r’s Pierre Latour, who was the one banging his handlebar in second place.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the sprint for third ahead of a group that included Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and Mikel Landa (Movistar).
It was only the ninth victory for the UAE-Team Emirates team in 2018, and by far the team’s biggest.
“I was really relaxed all day,” Martin said. “Not confident, but just looking forward to having a crack. Looking forward to racing on the last climb. Luckily it worked out.”
Though it wasn’t a high-mountain climb, Thursday’s finish atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne — and the tension-filled approach to it, really — had a definitive impact on the general classification at the Tour de France, with several winners and losers on the day.
With 6km to go and the race full gas, Dutch GC contender Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) ran into Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), damaging his front wheel. The 2017 Giro d’Italia champion took a front wheel from teammate Simon Geschke, and was then paced back by several teammates, including white jersey wearer Soren Kragh Andersen, who lost precious time in the best young rider competition.
A few minutes later, Bardet, third overall last year, was in a similar position as Dumoulin, chasing desperately after the damage to his rear wheel forced him to finish the stage on Tony Gallopin’s bike.
Dumoulin also received a 20-second penalty for extended drafting behind his team vehicle; Sunweb director Luke Roberts was also fined.
The net result — Dumoulin lost 1:10 to GC rivals such as Valverde, Porte, Nibali, and Landa, and 1:05 seconds to Chris Froome, who was on the wrong side of a split and sacrificed five seconds across the line. (Rigoberto Uran of EF Education First-Drapac, second-place finisher last year, finished three seconds behind Froome.)
“I hit Bardet’s back wheel when there was a movement in the peloton and I couldn’t avoid it,” Dumoulin said. “I had a broken spoke with my front wheel, and needed to change and chase to the finish as hard as possible. It was very difficult. We knew that in the first five days we were very lucky, but we also knew that it could hit us also, and it did today. It’s very unfortunate, but it is how it is.”
Bardet’s time loss wasn’t quite as significant as Dumoulin’s — 28 seconds to the Porte group, 23 seconds to Froome, and 20 seconds to Uran — but the Frenchman can add his name to a long list of GC contenders who have hemorrhaged time in this first week due to crashes of mechanicals.
Porte, Froome, Yates, and Nairo Quintana all lost around a minute (or more) on Stage 1, while Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) lost 59 seconds on Stage 4 into Sarzeau after a crash 5km from the line. And while Uran was paced back to the front by his EF Education First-Drapac teammates on Tuesday, Zakarin, a bit further back behind the crash, was left on his own.
Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang was also down on Stage 6, around 30km to, though he was paced back to the bunch by four teammates and finished the stage in the Valverde group.
“I had to change my bike with Tony [Gallopin] three kilometers from the finish,” Bardet said. “And so the effort to do that just killed me for the Mur. It’s never a good thing to concede time like that. The whole pack was rolling very fast when I had my problem. But of course these are just the hazards of sport. Apart from that, everything’s fine. There are always twists and turns at the Tour de France. Today luck was simply not on our side.”
Among those riders targeting the general classification, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) leads; after taking two bonus seconds late in the stage, he sits second overall, three seconds behind Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), who defended the maillot jaune by finishing 12th on the stage.
Van Avermaet’s teammate, Tejay van Garderen, finished three seconds behind the Valverde group, and now sits third overall, five seconds behind Van Avermaet.
While the BMC Racing team is riding in support of Porte for overall victory, Van Avermaet made it clear that he hopes to race for the stage win across the cobblestones Sunday while still wearing the maillot jaune.
“For sure, I am now thinking about the stage to Roubaix,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s going to be a hectic stage and maybe the hardest one of the week but first, we have two stages to get through and you always have to concentrate in the Tour. Something can always happen but I hope to go into Roubaix in yellow. It’s the closest stage to Belgium and I like the cobblestones so, let’s go for it.”
And though BMC has the maillot jaune, placed ahead of its GC contender, Porte pointed to the intra-squad dynamics at Team Sky, where Thomas leads Froome by 59 seconds.
“Today’s stage was a nice one to tick off,” Porte said. “Yesterday and today were pretty stressful days coming into them but we didn’t lose time and we put time into some guys. Greg kept the jersey too so it was a good day for us. It was a good GC day and it will be interesting now with Team Sky, to see if they back Geraint Thomas or Froomey.”
Let the mind games begin.
VIRTUAL GC AMONG GENERAL CLASSIFICATION CONTENDERS
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), 22:35:49
2. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), at 0:02
3. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), at 0:42
4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at 0:48
5. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), at 0:49
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), at 0:50
7. Richie Porte (BMC Racing), at same time
8. Mikel Landa (Movistar), at 0:52
9. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), at 0:59
10. Chris Froome (Team Sky), at same time
11. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), at 1:05
12. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), at 1:14
13. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), at 1:20
14. Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates), at 1:24
15. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), at 1:42
16. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), at 1:59
17. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at 2:07
CyclingTips editor Neal Rogers will be writing a daily column during the 2018 Tour de France, focused on analysis, commentary, and opinion.