This article was first published in Cyclingnews
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) made up for two terrible days in the Pyrenees by soloing to his second stage victory of the Tour de France. The Spaniard surged to the head of the race on the final climb after making the day's breakaway, and then outpaced Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) to claim the win.
Chris Froome (Sky) withstood attacks from all of his rivals to maintain his sizeable lead in the overall standings.
Rodriguez saw his general classification ambitions go out of the window on the Col du Tourmalet yesterday, he crashed neutral zone and ended up losing 10 minutes, but he got himself in the today’s breakaway and on the hors-catégorie Plateau de Beille he jumped clear of Fuglsang and Romain Bardet, who finished a distant third. It was the second victory of the race for Rodriguez, whose triumphant win on the Mur de Huy preceded the downfall of his GC hopes.
“To win a stage of the Tour is so important. It’s a long time since my first stage win in 2010. I’m like Atlético Madrid – you never really know what to expect from me,” Rodríguez said.
“I said this morning, I didn’t think there was chance. With the climbs today, we [the breakaway] did quite an impressive job. The Platueau de Beille is a really important race finish. I was definitely feeling that I was in better condition than them [Fuglsang and Bardet] and I know this climb well so I attacked.”
It was a wet afternoon in the Pyrenees, with storms at Plateau de Beille, but the fight for yellow ended up being a damp squib. The peloton thinned on the first-category Col de la Core and Port de Lers, but the attacks would only come on the second half of the final climb.
Many wondered whether the general classification contenders could put a chink in the armour of Chris Froome, but race leader held tight.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was first to attack, then Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), but neither were given much leash. Nairo Quintana's attack was quickly marked, while his teammate Alejandro Valverde continued trying to soften Sky up. But none could shake Froome; they couldn’t even shake Geraint Thomas, who put in another remarkable high-mountain display to shut down and deter attackers.
As they neared the summit, Quintana tried a few times but to no avail and Froome sprinted to the line ahead of all but Valverde in what will be a depressing sight for those hoping for a more open contest.
How it unfolded
The first item on today’s mountain-filled agenda was actually an intermediate sprint, where André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) continued to work to close the gap to green jersey-holder Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo). The German took the maximum points ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), with Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) obstructed by a Giant lead-out man. Sagan's lead is now down to just two points.
It was at that point that Lieuwe Westra (Astana) launched an attack, and many others fancied getting involved. In the end a 22-rider group was established that also included Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Matthieu Ladagnous, Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quickstep), Romain Bardet, Mickaël Chérel, and Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Bryan Coquard and Romain Sicard (Europcar), Kristjian Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel and Jérôme Coppel (IAM), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Frédéric Brun, and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché), Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka), Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin), and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo).
They carved out an advantage of over six minutes as Preidler took the KOM points over the second-category Col de Portet-d’Aspet and made their way to the foot of the first category 1 climb, the Col de la Core. Marcel Sieberg (Lotto-Soudal) and Angelo Tulik (Europcar), set off in pursuit of the leaders, but despite spending a great deal of time in no man’s land they would never make it across.
On the Col de la Core it was Westra and Fuglsang who forced the issue, causing the lead group to break up, while Sky controlled things in the bunch behind. Riblon, Chavanel, Roy, and Brun lost contact, and while Durasek took the mountain points, Kwiatkowski, Preidler and Vanmarcke managed to pull clear with 75km remaining.
They soon gained 1:25 over the rest of the break and the gap back to the peloton rose above 12 minutes. Preidler was dropped on the Port de Lers, where Kwiatkowski took the points, and the fragmented chase group split in two on the descent to the foot of the final climb.
Sky could be seen on the front of the bunch once again on the Port de Lers, where Jean-Christophe Péraud and Dan Martin ran into trouble but on there was little action among the overall contenders.
A storm raged up at the finish and rain also started to pound down on the riders on the descent and in the valley, where the leading duo hit the final climb with a two minutes on the chasers 10 on the peloton.
When Peter Kennaugh and Richie Porte hit the climb with Froome in tow, Kwiatkowski had just left Vanmarcke behind, making his superior climbing ability count. Meanwhile the chasing group began to become more select and with just over ten kilometres to go Rodríguez attacked, dragging Bardet and Fuglsang with him.
As has been the case on all the crucial climbs so far in the Tour, the yellow jersey group thinned out quickly and considerably on the climb to Plateau de Beille. Tony Gallopin and Warren Barguil, seventh and ninth on GC before the stage, were dropped as the group reduced to 12.
With just over 8km to go Rodríguez made his move and was soon flying past Kwiatkowski and putting daylight between himself and Fuglsang and Bardet further back.
The diminutive Spaniard worked away at it on his own and as it became increasingly apparent that victory would be his, the GC battle failed to truly ignite behind.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||5:40:14|
|2||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||0:01:12|
|3||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:49|
|4||Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Movistar Team||0:04:34|
|5||Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka||0:04:38|
|6||Jan Barta (Cze) Bora-Argon 18||0:05:47|
|7||Romain Sicard (Fra) Team Europcar||0:06:03|
|8||Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:06:28|
|9||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:06:46|
|10||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||0:06:47|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||46:50:32|
|2||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||0:02:52|
|3||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||0:03:09|
|4||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:03:58|
|5||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||0:04:03|
|6||Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:04:04|
|7||Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo||0:05:32|
|8||Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal||0:07:32|
|9||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:07:47|
|10||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing||0:08:02|