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Le Tour’17 St15: Magic From Mollema!
Race Report: Bauke Mollema took Trek-Segafredo's first win on the 2017 Tour de France by going clear from a break he had instigated. Despite a four man chase, Mollema had held his own and took a fantastic solo win. Chris Froome Held his overall lead going into the last rest day.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Bauke MOLLEMA (Netherlands / Team Trek Segafredo)  pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2017

It was a day for breakaways and a day for ambushes and we got them both. Bauke Mollema helped form the break of the day on the opening first category climb. They gained a large advantage and at one point it looked like Damiano Caruso would be a threat to Froome's yellow jersey. That was until AG2R drilled it on the front into the penultimate climb of the day, a first category ascent. Chris Froome was caught out with a mechanical as the pace hotted up and he was left to fight back onto the GC group. It was a case of Jekyll and Hyde for Romain Bardet, he had pushed the knife into Froome on the climb but his killer instinct had completely evaporated as soon as Froome got back and when Alexis Vuillermoz was sent to the front to chase down Dan Martin, who had gone clear to gain some crucial seconds, it looked like Bardet was very happy to settle for a podium spot.

Meanwhile, in the lead, Barguil had attacked on the climb but he only had a small advantage and had sat up over the top. This brought Mollema back into the fray and he immediately struck out for the stage victory. Once he was gone, he was never caught, despite a numerical advantage in the chase.

In this unusual Tour de France route, we're now going back east towards the Alps, after the Jura mountains and the Pyrenees. Stage 15 is a 189.5km from Laissac-Severac l'Eglise, in the south-east corner of the Massif Central, to Le Puy-En-Velay, slap bang in the middle of the mountain rage. It's a very hard stage to call, there's two first category climbs; Montee de Naves d'Aubrac (8.9km @ 6.4%) which comes after 28.5km, and Col de Peyra Taillade (8.3km @ 7.4%) which tops out 31km prior to the finish. In between, there's an endless string of rolling grippy roads which will test the patience of the riders as they close in on the second rest day.

The final 20km are a complicated affair, they're almost all downhill, but feature the fourth category Code de Saint-Vidal (1.9km @ 6.8%) and a further uncategorized kick up just 7km away from the finish. It has 'Ambush' written all over it.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Paul MARTENS (Germany / Team Lotto NL - Jumbo) - Dylan GROENEWEGEN (Netherlands / Team Lotto NL - Jumbo)  pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2017

Polka Dot Police
Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) had abandoned during yesterday's stage and he was joined on the sofa by Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal). The Belgian had a good start to the race, 8th overall after stage 4, but his form had then collapsed and after stage 6, he'd failed to finish within the top 100 positions during the stage, and had fallen from eighth to 169th overall. He abandoned to reduce the field to 175 riders, with 23 watching from home.

On paper, it was a day for the breakaway, and there was a frantic start to the stage. Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) started the attacking and he was joined by King of the Mountain's jersey holder Warren Barguil (Sunweb), Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Robert Kiserlovski & Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), Tsgabu Grmay (Bahrain-Merida), Damiano Caruso (BMC), Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal), and, Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis). Barguil was doing the share of the pace making on the opening first category climb and this was beginning to hurt as both Martin and Sieberg fell away under the Frenchman's hard work.

Le Puy-en-Velay, France - July 16 : FROOME Christopher of Team Sky during stage 15 of the 104th edition of the 2017 Tour de France cycling race, a stage of 189.5 kms between Laissac-Severac l’Eglise and Le Puy-en-Velay on July 16, 2017 in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, 16/07/2017 ( Motordriver Kenny Verfaillie - Photo by Vincent Kalut / Photonews

Meanwhile, in the peloton, Trek-Segafredo were testing the legs in an effort to set-up Contador for a move. Instead of the Spaniard, it was team mate Bauke Mollema who launched the move to go clear. He towed a mini-peloton with him and away from a Sky led peloton, who were beginning to burn some riders very early in the stage. Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) was the next to go, he clipped clear and tried to link up with his team mate. Sky were under serious pressure as they tried to bring the Spaniard to heel. The Contador attack was short lived, and he was brought back on the opening climb, but that was good enough for the Sky train and they sat up to allow the two breakaway groups to push ahead.

With so many riders in the second group, the catch was imminent, and after Barguil had mopped up the points for the first two climbs, the two groups merged. As well as Sieberg and Tony Martin, who had been picked up on the way, the new comers were: Tiesj Benoot & Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Jan Bakelants (AG2R-La Mondiale), Romain Hardy & Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Lilian Calmejane & Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNl-Jumbo), Nicolas Roche. Alessandro de Marchi & Amael Moinard (BMC), Diego Ulissi & Kristjian Durasek (UAE Team Emirates), Michael Matthews & Simon Geschke (Sunweb), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Maurits Lammertinks (Katusha-Alpecin).

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tiesj BENOOT (Belgium / Team Lotto Soudal) - Warren BARGUIL (France / Team Sunweb) pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

With 120km left to ride, the gap had increased to just over five minutes. After the green jersey seemed to have been decided earlier in the week, it was back to being a competition. Michael Matthews' victory in the previous stage had reduced the gap to 99 to Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), still an absolute mile, but with the intermediate sprint yet to come and, of course, the stage finish, Kittel was at least coming within sight of the Australian. The race could now settle down before the brutal finale.

Day's Break
Without any sprint competition in the lead group, Michael Matthews was able to easily snatch the intermediate points and close his gap by 20 points to Kittel, who was left unable to offer up much resistance back in the peloton.

The gap had extended up beyond six minutes and this was beginning to have GC implications as Damiano Caruso, who was 11.26 back overall in 14th place, had now moved into the provisional top 10, and was about halfway off snatching the yellow jersey. That wasn't likely to be the case however, with Sky taking a watchful, but not overly concerned place at the head of the peloton. One of the perils of owning the yellow jersey.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Michal KWIATKOWSKI (Poland / Team Sky) - Christopher - Chris FROOME (GBR / Team Sky)  pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

The gap was continuing to grow however, now over eight minutes, and that was the sign for Tony Martin to take his leave from the break. The German attacked over the top of the L'Hospitalet du Sauvage rise and flew down the descent to the flat section leading to the final first category climb. The German has a habit of going clear for solo wins and he was looking strong as BMC were forced into the chase. All this was positive for Caruso however, he was reducing his deficit in the GC, and was now just over two minutes off taking yellow from Froome.

Martin was flying along and he had stretched his gap out towards two minutes, despite the increased numbers behind. He hit the foot of the climb alone, whilst behind, AG2R had hit the front of the peloton and they were beginning to stretch out the peloton. They were doing more than that, their pace making had split the peloton and Froome had been caught out. Despite doing all the work, Sky had missed the boat and they were now working hard to close down the gap. They brought it back together but AG2R, and specifically Oliver Naesen, were going flat out and once again Froome was distanced. This time it was worse, the yellow jersey apparently had a rear wheel puncture, the race was on, and Froome was on the side of the road, changing his rear wheel for Michal Kwiatkowski's wheel. AG2R-La Mondiale weren't stopping, and nor should they, and Froome was panicking.

Ambush Ahoy
AG2R-La Mondiale had plenty of firewood left, whereas Froome only had Nieve. Then, he didn't even have him, Froome was alone, he had Mikel Landa in the Bardet group and the Spaniard was dropping back to help out. The gap wasn't yet terminal but Froome was doing a lot of work whilst Bardet could take it easy out in the front.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tony MARTIN (Germany / Team Katusha - Alpecin)  pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto Poolphoto Bernard Papon/Cor Vos © 2017

In the lead group, Tony Martin's brave attack had come to an end and he was overtaken by Warren Barguil and Serge Pauwels. The king of the mountain's leader was first over the top of the climb and then sat up to welcome the heavily reduced break from behind.

Bardet hit the front and only Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) could follow. Mikel Landa, chained to Froome, was helping to close the gap, along with Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Bardet was brought to heel. Earlier on the climb, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had come completely unstuck and was falling down the GC rapidly.

The Bardet attack hadn't caused a gap and Bardet and Alexis Vuillermoz were now just grinding along in front of Froome and Landa, playing directly into the yellow jersey's hands. Both Froome and Landa had to empty the tank to get back into the GC group, but they were now having an easy ride.

In the front group, Mollema, who had started the attack, was now by himself as he flew down the descent. The chasing group were high powered and Mollema wasn't gaining a tonne of time, he had 30 seconds with the rolling finale yet to come.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - VUILLERMOZ Alexis (FRA) Rider of Team AG2R La Mondiale and BARDET Romain (FRA) Rider of Team AG2R La Mondiale are leading the group in front of URAN URAN Rigoberto (COL) Rider of Cannondale - Drapac team, MARTIN Daniel (IRL) Rider of Quick-Step Floors Cycling team and FROOME Christopher (GBR) Rider of Team SKY pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50

Chance Gone
Bardet still had Jan Bakelants up the road, the perfect team mate to be used to stretch the gap out against Froome, but because of the lack of an attack, he was left to stay in the breakaway group. A group that continued to lose more time on Mollema as they hit the final categorised climb. Primoz Roglic was the first to strike out from the chasers and he was immediately joined by Warren Barguil, who had seemingly endless supplies of energy. The pair were joined by Tony Gallopin and Diego Ulissi as they crested the summit of the climb, now just 20 seconds in arrears.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Bauke MOLLEMA (Netherlands / Team Trek Segafredo) pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

Mollema was still in the lead with 10km left to ride, but he was now going into a block headwind and the chasing quartet had the big advantage. But he was keeping his twenty second advantage despite the numerical advantage.

Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) was the first of the GC contenders to break rank, and he brought out Mikel Landa who was on hand to do the closing down job for Chris Froome. It all came together over the top of the climb and when we hit the flat, Dan Martin was the next person to take up the mantle. Alexis Vuillermoz was the first man to try and close him down, AG2R were showing a level of tactical naivety that was baffling even for French teams. Finally, they lent on Sky and Landa was forced into the chasing work once again.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Warren BARGUIL (France / Team Sunweb) pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

Out front, and nothing had really changed, the four chasers were closing the gap to Mollema, but very very slowly and he was still in the lead with 2km left to ride. Barguil was looking like the strongest man in the chasing quartet but they weren't making any inroads and Mollema was riding into the final kilometer. He now wasn't going to be caught, he sparked the counter attack that led to the formation of the large break and now, 180km later, he was about to cross the line for an epic victory. He punched the air, the first victory for Trek-Segafredo in the Tour this year. The quartet had fought hard but once they got within 20 seconds, Mollema had found another gear and they hadn't got any closer. Diego Ulissi had snatched second and Tony Gallopin had found third.

Le Puy-en-Velay, - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Bauke MOLLEMA (Netherlands / Team Trek Segafredo)  pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 15 from Laissac-Sévérac l’…glise to Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.50 km - foto  NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

Dan Martin's attack was continuing and he had found allies from the earlier group. He was edging ahead of the Froome group and was becoming more and more of a threat with every stage that went by. The Irishman was really finding his form in the three week stage races and had a great opportunity to spring a surprise with a week left to go.

Chris Froome had been on the ropes but he sprinted away with the finish in sight to stretch out the GC group. There were no time gaps, but it was a body blow for his rivals, who thought they had caused more damage.

Meanwhile, further behind, the real loser of the day was Nairo Quintana, the Movistar rider had cracked on the penultimate climb of the day and faded badly on the run in. His chances of another Tour de France podium had disappeared and Movistar's Tour was in tatters.

30 seconds sum-up - Stage 15 - Tour de France 2017 por tourdefrance_en

Stay PEZ for Ed Hood's stage 15 'Roadside'.

Tour de France Stage 15 Result:
1. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo in 4:41:47
2. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates in 0:19
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
4. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNl-Jumbo
5. Warren Barguil (Fra) Sunweb at 0:23
6. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC at 1:00
7. Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie at 1:04
8. Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R-La Mondiale
9. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ
10. Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data
11. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
12. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC
13. Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis
14. Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Fortuneo-Oscaro at 1:12
15. Amael Moinard (Fra) BMC
16. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb at 5:04
17. Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin at 5:07
18. Luis Angel Mate (Spa) Cofidis at 5:14
19. Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Oscaro
20. Tony Martin (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin
21. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC at 5:40
22. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 6:11
23. Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Bahrain-Merida
24. Simon Geschke (Ger) Sunweb
25. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors.

Tour de France Overall After Stage 15:
1. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky in 64:40:21
2. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 0:18
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 0:23
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac at 0:29
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors at 1:12
6. Mikel Landa (Spa) Sky at 1:17
7. Simon Yates (GB) Orica-Scott at 2:02
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates at 5:09
9. Alberto Contador (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 5:37
10. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC at 6:05
11. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 6:16
12. George Bennett (NZ) LottoNl-Jumbo at 6:39
13. Warren Barguil (Fra) Sunweb at 8:48
14. Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 13:41
15. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Sky at 14:52
16. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 14:54
17. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 19:37
18. Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar at 22:17
19. Brice Feillu (Fra) Fortuneo-Oscaro at 27:08
20. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert at 27:28
21. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 30:10
22. Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data at 31:13
23. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 31:56
24. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 34:50
25. Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R-La Mondiale at 39:19.


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