This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Christopher Froome (Sky) won the showdown on Mont Ventoux, taking the win on the 15th stage of the Tour de France and extending his overall lead. He beat Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the only one remotely able to keep up with him, with Euskaltel's Mikel Nieve taking the spirited battle for third on the stage from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
It was another incredible display of strength by Froome, who one by one dropped all of his rivals until he was alone with teammate Richie Porte and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff). With 7.5km to go, Froome jumped and Contador could not respond, and the maillot jaune holder set off in pursuit of Quintana, who had attacked on the lower slopes.
The other pretenders to the throne had earlier been dropped and could only hope to retain their top rankings. Contador was for a long time in the closest group behind Froome in the finale. But surprisingly he too fell back, losing 1:40 on Froome.
Contador finished sixth on the stage, 1:40 down on Froome
Quintana looked to be well on his way to a stage victory until Froome joined him. He held on to the Sky rider most of the way up, refusing to pull through as Froome revved the accelerator. The young Movistar rider finally succumbed just outside the one kilometer to go banner.
With the stage win, Froome once again built up his lead over his challengers. He ended the day 4:14 ahead of Bauke Mollema (Belkin) in second and 4:25 over Contador in third in the general classification.
Froome was surprised but pleased to win the stage.
“I didn’t imagine I’d win on this climb, it’s so historic and means so much to this race, especially in the 100th edition of the race,” he said.
“My objective was to get as much of a buffer in GC as I could. I didn’t seem myself winning. I can’t believe it.”
Froome praised Quintana for his performance.
“He’s a really strong climber. I expected him to go but I wasn’t expecting it’d be that hard to catch him. Even when I did, I thought he’d win the stage and I’d have to settle for whatever gap I could get. Fortunately he faded in last two kilometres and I had a bit left. We talked a bit and I was motivating him by saying 'Come on, come on'. But then he faded, I don’t think I really attacked.”
Quintana was the last man standing with Froome
Bauke Mollema of Belkin lost 1:46 to Froome on the stage, but retained his second place overall, now 4:14 down. "It wasn’t easy. I had to give everything I had, but I guess you can take a lot of pain when you're second overall!” he said. “I'm not sure if I've ever had to go so deep. In the last ten kilometres I was really suffering."
He also praised teammate Laurens ten Dam, who stayed in fifth place overall, saying he “was very strong and did a lot of work. That was great.”
How it unfolded
All 181 remaining riders took to the early start, with much nervousness and tension. The attacks started almost immediately, but no one was able to get away. There were two category 4 climbs within the first 30km, and as expected, they served as the springboard for the day's break group.
A group of 10 formed around the ever dangerous Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). The other eight were Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Julien El Fares (Sojasun), Alberto Losado (Katusha), Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ.FR), Markel Irizar (RadioShack-Leopard), and Jeremy Roy (FDJ.FR).
Chavanel was in the early break, and then he attacked solo before being caught by Quintana
By 50km, they had built up a lead of 1:50, and it just increased from there, hitting 7 minutes only 25km later. King of the Mountains Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) fought hard to catch up, but had trouble making the final connection. Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) tried too, but finally had to sit up and wait for the field.
Burghardt and Rolland had been at one point within 15 seconds of the group, but were unable to close the gap. When it grew to one minute, Rolland realized the futility of his efforts and gave up the chase. Eventually they too were caught by the field.
After reaching a high of 7 minutes, the gap started to fall by the halfway mark. The break group went through the feed zone with a lead of only 4:35. Europcar led the chase, and it began to look as if the break wouldn't make it to the foot of Mont Ventoux alone.
The race had gotten off to an exceptionally fast start, over 48km covered in the first hour. The second hour was even faster at 50.5kph, but the third hour settled down to a more reasonable 41.3.
With 93km to go, Movistar had moved in to lead the chase, with the gap between the 3:30 and 4:00 minute marks. The peloton seemed happy to keep the group at that distance.
The day's intermediate sprint came 34km before the end, and there was little doubt as to how it will go. No one dared to challenge the green jersey, but Sagan kept a wary eye on the others as he rolled over the line as first.
As the start of the climb loomed, Euskaltel moved to the front of the field and picked up the pace. With 29km to go the gap had dropped to three minutes. Sky moved back to the front, with the gap now plummeting with every meter.
That was too much for Chavanel, who attacked the breakaway with visions of Bastille Day glory in mind. With still one kilometer to go before the climb started, the gap was under two minutes. At the other end of the action, riders were falling off the back, including last year's best young rider Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
Chavanel had built up 28 seconds with 20km to go, and the chase group too started falling apart, with Sagan noticeably lagging back. Surprisingly, Rolland was dropped from the main group, and it seemed unlikely he would be able to play a role in the stage.
Sagan was one of the first to re-join the field, which he celebrated with a wave and wheelie. Soon Irizar and Riblon were the only chasers, 28 seconds behind Chavanel with 16 km to go, with the field a bit more than a minute behind them.
Rui Costa (Movistar) and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) were the first to jump from the field. Costa couldn't hang on, but Bakelants soon moved up to Irizar and Riblon.
Andy Schleck got dropped along the way, and had the further handicap of a “helpful” fan, who no doubt only wanted to give him a push, but nearly shoved him off his bike.
Irizar sooon fell back, but Bakelants was joined by Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel). Quintana jumped as next, as Nieve passed Chavanel. With 12.4 km the Colombian caught Chavanel, and Sky moved into the lead of the chase, with Froome having two helpers with him.
Chavanel was soon caught again, and the gap from the field to Nieve was only 39 seconds. Quintana moved up slowly and smoothly in pursuit of the Basque rider. It took a while but he caught Nivel with 10.5 km to go.
Quintana demonstrated that his previous results in the mountains were no flukes
Cadel Evans (BMC), who won the Tour in 2011, had never been top in this year's race, and fell back from the Froome group with a bit more than 10 km to go. Bakelants was caught about the same time, leaving only Quintana and Nieve in the lead by 41 seconds.
With a little over 9 kilometers to go, Peter Kennaugh dropped out of the lead work, leaving Froome with only Richie Porte to lead him. Contador, right behind, had two helpers. Belkin's Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam were also still in the group.
The long grinding climb took its expected toll, and the favourites' group became smaller and smaller, with truly only favourites in it. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Jakob Fuglsang were victims, as well. With 8 kilometers to go, there was only a trio: Froome, Porte and Contador.
Valverde was dropped from the front group
Porte put in an incredible performance, pulling the group up the dreaded climb, but he too could finally had to drop back. With 7.5m to go, Nieve could no longer stay with Quintana.
Shortly thereafter, Froome attacked, quickly passing the fading Nieve. Contador could not or did not respond. The duo fought the motorcycles and crazed fans and Froome easily moved past Quintana, never once getting out of the saddle. The Colombian fought his way back though, and took Froome's rear wheel, eventually taking his turn in the lead.
As their gap over Contador increased, Quintana moved back into the lead work after a few words with Froome. The Briton tried repeatedly to dump him, and with 1.3 km to go he was finally successful.
Joaquim Rodriguez jumped from his group as they passed under the flamme rouge, hoping to make up a few seconds. But ahead of him, Froome rolled over the line, with a large smile on his face and still enough energy to celebrate. Quintana came in 29 seconds down.
The surprise came as the next riders came into view: Nieve and Rodriguez – no Contador to be seen! The Spaniard finished 1:40 down, as sixth, another bitter blow.
Froome is in firm control of the 2013 Tour de France