Pretty much from the off, there’s an escape. Garmin-Sharp’s Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger, in his very natty Swiss national champion’s jersey for IAM Cycling, take off. The peloton is more than happy to let them get on with it. And that was pretty much it for the next 200+ kilometers.
Even though the pace was high, the lead ballooned out to nine minutes, before the sprinters’ teams decided they should make an effort.
Around 50kms to go and the wind direction started to shift: BMC suddenly ramped the speed up and there was a bit of a panic as everyone scrabbled to avoid being caught out if it split. Already out the back was Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), in the wrong place at the wrong time.
30kms to go for Bauer and Elmiger, and the lead duo just kept swishing along. The New Zealander was doing marginally more work, but they were essentially playing together nicely with Astana and BMC monitoring the gap from the head of the peloton.
21 clicks to ride, and it was really miserable. The rain battered down on the lead duo who had less than a minute-and-a-half. Car and moto headlights blared and flared off the soaking road and behind there were punctures a go-go off the back as the water washed gunk and debris onto the tarmac.
The conditions were so bad it was like racing at night!
Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol) had his hands draped over the bars as he lined out the main field, a phalanx of Giant-Shimano riders sitting on his back wheel.
17 kilometers left and the sun came back out, glaring off the road which shone like sheet ice. Omega Pharma – Quick-Step’s Michal Kwiatkowski took a flier off the front of the main field, but it seemed a pointless expenditure of energy. He got nowhere.
Bauer and Elmiger hit 15 kilometers to go; they were hammering along at 50kms per hour and they still had 61 seconds. It would be a tall order to hang on from here as they squeaked gingerly through a roundabout.
The roads were drying out with seven K’s to go, and the sun hurled the shadows onto the tarmac on the riders’ right hand side. Still forty seconds of a gap and maybe… just maybe… it was doable for Bauer and Elmiger?
Lotto Belisol had four guys lined out in front of Greipel as we steamed towards Nîmes. OPQS (for Trentin or Renshaw?) and Katusha started to swarm the front. Tony Martin simply rolled clear off the front as the main field took a 90 degree roundabout and took Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen Roelandts with him. Martin realised he’s gone off script and dialled it back so that he could resume lead-out duties.
Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) and Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) gave it everything they had
Three kilometers left and the two-headed break of Elmiger/Bauer were daring to dream. Still 28 seconds clear!
Michal Golas for OPQS jumped and opened a little gap to the peloton; Tony Martin got up to his team-mate and leapfrogged past.
Then Daniele Bennati attacked off the front, got a gap … and punctured! Then Martin tried again, but it was still 20 seconds to the leaders.
Last kilometer for Bauer who led Elmiger under the red kite with Tony Martin trying to get across. Bauer and Elmiger still co-operated, still fought.
Europcar suddenly emerged with Kevin Reza leading Bryan Coquard as Elmiger launched his sprint, Bauer in his slipstream and the main field right on them.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha): Stage win No. 2 for the big man from Norway
Fifty meters left and the sprinters swarmed through, past Elmiger first and then a shattered Bauer and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won it on the line.
Desperately close for Bauer who hung on for tenth, and more or less collapsed off the bike in tears of frustration. You just felt for the guy, and for Elmiger – it was a hell of an effort. A break of 220 kilometers, swept up a stone’s throw from the line.
It was all a bit much for Garmin-Sharp’s Jack Bauer
To Kristoff the win, but to Bauer and Elmiger the glory. No change overall, so Nibali takes yellow into the rest day.
Ed arrives in France today to take over from the Pez, so stay tuned for his adventure!
Tour de France Stage 15 Result:
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha in 4:56:43
2. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
4. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
5. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step
6. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Europcar
7. Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin Sharp
8. Romain Feillu (Fra) Bretagne-Seche Environnement
9. Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEDGE
10. Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin-Sharp.
Tour de France Overall After Stage 15:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 66:49:37
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 4:37
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale 4:50
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 5:06
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 5:49
6. Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale 6:08
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin 8:33
8. Leopold Konig (Cze) Netapp-Endura at 9:32
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 10:01
10. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 10:48.