At the start of the day it would have been a brave man who would have put money on the break succeeding. Of the original 17 riders; one man went all the way to the line, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka was the ‘Man of the Match’ and stuck it out to the finish. Behind him the fireworks had ignited and Vincenzo Nibali blew the others away. The excitement now must be in the battle for the podium between Alessandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot and Tejay van Garderen.
Stage 14 Course
It’s a big day with three climbs: The Col du Lautaret (Cat 1, 34km at 3.9%) starts from the gun, then the Col d’Izoard (HC, 19m at 6%) and then the summit finish up Risoul (Cat 1, 12.6km at 6.9%). The Col d’Izoard is the Souvenir Henri Desgrange as the highest climb in this year’s Tour at 2,360 metres. All this climbing is packed into 177 kilometres.
And they are Off!
It didn’t take long (about 1 metre) for the action to start and it was Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) who jumped as soon as the flag was dropped. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was right on his wheel as he wants that KOM jersey, the little Catalan is wearing it today, but it rightly belongs to overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). That attempt failed but it was a vision of what was going to happen until everything was settled. Lotto Belisol’s sprinter André Greipel was dropped or crashed in the first K’s, but with help from the cars he rejoined.
A big group formed including Nibali, but it was too big so it came together for another split to head off the front. FDJ.fr and Trek had missed it so the chase was on.
The Break of the Day
Things settled down with an escape of around 20 riders including Rodriguez and Sagan and it seemed to suit Astana as they eased down the speed in the peloton a notch to let the break go.
The break of 17 riders settled into a nice working situation and it had 1:37 after 22 kilometres, the group was: Geraint Thomas & Mikel Nieve (Sky), Steven Kruijswijk (Belkin), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Nicolas Roche & Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Amaël Moinard (BMC), Peter Sagan & Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale), Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Nicolas Edet & Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale), Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano). Geraint Thomas is the highest placed rider on the overall at 14:05, so none of the riders are any danger to Nibali. Astana had all their team on the front of the bunch.
The Intermediate Sprint
After 40 kilometres, in La Paute (Bourg d’Oisans), as expected Peter Sagan took full points, but there wasn’t really any challenge. The lead was at 3:37 with 137 kilometres to go and everyone had settled into the race situation.
The Col du Lautaret
After the (only) flat section in the valley of Bourg d’Oisans, the Lautaret rears its large head for the 34 kilometre long climb up to 2,058 metres, the start in Grenoble was at 312 metres altitude and the course has mostly climbed since then. With 120 kilometres to go the lead crested 4 minutes.
The threatened shower dampened down the action as the race passed an Alpine glacier with the possibility of thunder storms at the finish. The long climb of the Lautaret has been used in the Tour de France ten times before since the first time in 1950, the last time the was here was in 2006.
Astana controlled the peloton and the lead was static at below 5 minutes. Apart from the French champion; Arnaud Démare shooting ahead of the peloton at one point to ask if he could use the toilet in a campervan, there was nothing to report. Peter Sagan sat at the back of the group all the way up.
As the escape reached the summit of the Lautaret, after 82 kilometres, Roche lifted the pace, but Rodriguez wanted the points and had moved to the front and only had to roll over the line for the maximum score.
Luckily the rain had disappeared, so the 30 kilometre descent down to Briançon was fairly safe.
Down in the valley; NetApp-Endura decided to start a chase and the lead dropped from just over 5 minutes to 2:40 by the time the race passed through the feed zone in Briançon (the highest town in France) with 65 kilometres to go.
One of the loser of the day; Alejendro Valvere is still in 2nd overall, but not by much
The Izoard is long, high and not easy, there is one short downhill section which comes 4 kilometres into the climb, and then it ramps up at 9% in places. Peter Sagan was the first to give up in the lead group, probably saving himself for Sunday’s stage to Nîmes which should suit his talents. He was soon joined by Giant-Shimano’s Albert Timmer.
Meanwhile the peloton was shedding the sprinters and the groupetto was forming at the back.
Geraint Thomas wanted to push on in the break, which livened things up a bit and riders were shed from escape; Edet, Taaramae and Roche were dropped from the group, but Rodriguez was looking comfortable.
Majka took the front spot with Rodriguez on his wheel, this split what was left of the leaders. The attack by Majka was not serious and Rodriguez quite smoothly moved forward to take full points again.
Astana and FDJ.fr rode on the front of the peloton setting a steady pace which was fast enough to get rid of many non-climbers, but not fast enough to trouble any of the GC riders.
At the top there was low cloud, not proper rain, but enough to make the road wet for the descent, the leaders had 2:57 on the peloton.
On the descent Bardet and Pinot started a battle which caused a little split with Nibali and Valverde safely there. Pinot is not the best descender in the peloton and he was in trouble to stay with the yellow jersey group. Tejay van Garderen had missed the move so BMC had to chase hard to close the bunch back together before the final climb of the Risoul.
Up at the front; 11 riders had got back together, they were: Thomas, Nieve, Kruijswijk, Moinard, De Marchi, Serpa, Rodríguez, Majka, Herrada, Yates and eventually Edet.
The young guy’s blew it apart: Pinot, Van Garderen, Bardet with Frank Schleck along for the ride
In the valley the chase groups closed up with all the top riders present and with 20 hard kilometres to go the 11 leaders had 1:30 on the Nibali group which was getting bigger as riders were managing to catch up on the flat section through the gorge. AG2R-La Mondiale was leading, hoping the keep Romain Bardet in a good position to protect his young riders jersey and his 3rd overall. FDJ.fr’s Pinot is only 16 second behind Bardet in both competitions.
The climb of the Risoul starts in the town of Lestre and climbs for 12.6 kilometres, AG2R hit the base of the climb on the front of the peloton 41 seconds behind the break. In the break De Marchi attacked in a similar way to yesterday. He was joined by Serpa as Nieve tried to cross as did Edet, but the others give up. De Marchi attacked Serpa to ride solo, but Rafal Majka had waited his time and caught De Marchi as Rodriguez rode steadily on.
The peloton had shrunk to around 20 riders under the impetus of AG2R-La Mondiale with 8 K’s to go.
Majka was going well at the front with Rodriguez and De Marchi chasing at 19 seconds and the Nibali/Valverde/Bardet group at 48 seconds with Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck dropped.
De Marchi was reeled in by the chasers with 4 kilometres to go as Rafal Majka pushed his lead to over 1 minute.
Vincenzo Nibali showed again why he is wearing the yellow jersey
Vincenzo Nibali attacked with 3 kilometres to go and passed Rodriguez with only Jean-Christophe Peraud for company. Valverde attacked the group, but it was Tejay van Garderen who was the strongman to ignite the group which was down to about eight riders: Van Garderen, Valverde, Schleck, Bardet, Pinot, Konig, Rolland and Ten Dam. Van Garderen put the pressure on again and Valverde lost his place and no one would help him.
Majka passed under the red kite with a good gap of 30 seconds over Nibali and Peraud. Pinot, Bardet and Van Garderen were fighting it out as Valverde was lost further down the hill.
100 metres to the line and Rafal Majka knew he had the stage won, with a finger point to his chest he crossed the line. Next up was Nibali who drops Peraud for second and Pinot out-sprints Bardet with Van Garderen just behind them, but where is Valverde?
Possibly teaching the Spaniard a lesson for not working with Bardet the previous day, Valverde lost 1:24 on stage winner Majka and just managed to save his second spot by 13 seconds, but the French tandem of Bardet and Pinot are snapping at his heels.
Another crazy exciting finalé to the day, Vincenzo Nibali is safe in Yellow, but the big battle is for the lower steps on the podium.
Keep it tuned to PEZ for all the excitement on the roads of France.
Tour de France Stage 14 Result:
1. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo in 5:08:27
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 0:24
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 0:26
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 0:50
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 0:54
7. Frank Schleck (Lux) Trek at 1:01
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 1:07
9. Leopold Konig (Cze) Netapp-Endura at 1:20
10. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 1:24.
Tour de France Overall After Stage 14:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 61:52:54
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 4:37
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:50
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 5:06
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 5:49
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 6:08
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at 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.