FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot soloed his way to victory atop l’Alpe d’Huez, as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finally showed what he can do, finished second and picking up time on yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky). Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) was third.
Froome showed signs of weakness for the first time in this Tour. He countered multiple attacks, but was unable to go with Quintana on the decisive move on the l’Alpe d’Huez. Quintana picked up over a minute as Froome finished fourth to secure the overall title.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) continued his downward trend, dropping out of the favourites’ group early on the final ascent. The worst luck had Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who punctured at the very start of the climb, losing too much time to catch up with the lead again.
The race came down to a man-against-man showdown, and while Quintana reached the top of l’Alpe d’Huez and gained some time back, Froome held on to his overall lead and will wear the yellow jersey into Paris on Sunday. Quintana’s efforts came too late to make him a serious danger. He finished 1:20 ahead of Froome, and gained two seconds in bonuses. The day ended with the Colombian 1:12 down in GC, followed by his teammate Valverde in third at 5:25, Nibali fourth at 8:36 and Contador fifth at 9:48.
How it unfolded
It was the last day for most riders to accomplish anything, and a fearsome stage for many. The attacks started as soon as the flag was dropped. Alexandre Geniez (FdJ) was the first to jump, and seemingly half the peloton tried to join him. Within four kilometers, only Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale-Garmin) had caught up, and soon Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto-Soudal) were there as well.
The foursome outpaced a flurry of further attacks and took off. The stage had started with a long descent, and as soon as they hit bottom, the Col de la Croix du Fer loomed. The peloton slowed down and allowed the four to seek their fortune on the HC-ranked climb.
Sky moved to the front of the field as the lead group took a seven minute lead as they started the ascent. With an eight-minute gap, the field started its way up, with the favourites all together.
Almost immediately the attacks started out of the field, with Andrei Grivko (Astana) and Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) were the first to stay away. They were soon joined by others, and ultimately a group of 10 was formed, most of them were soon caught again. Plaza, Winner Anacona (Movistar) and Rafel Majka (Tinkoff -Saxo) were able to hold on to 10 seconds ahead of the field, all roughly six minutes behind the leaders.
But they too were reined in again, with the gap down to under five and a half minutes. AG2R took over the lead work, holding the tempo high and preventing attacks in defense of Romain Bardet’s polka-dot jersey.
Geniez was the first to take off from the lead group and hope for the maximum points, and at the same time Movistar moved to the front of the chasing peloton, now less than four minutes back. The fearsome climb took its toll, as Bak dropped behind up front and further back, riders were being regularly shed by the field.
Alejandro Valverde was the first to go from the peloton. Chris Froome had only two helpers, Riche Porte and Nicolas Roche, and could only watch the Spanish champion pull away. He came into the stage in third place, but more than five minutes down.
And he was soon followed by Nairo Quintana. The Colombian was “hiding” back around sixth wheel before putting in a spirited attack. Again, Froome could only watch, and t didn’t help that Roche had to fall back almost immediately. Nibali and Contador clung to Froome’s rear wheel., and the three, with Roche and
The lead group had fallen apart and Geniez soloed to the top with Froome’ group 2:40 back. Contador had to drop on the way up and Quintana had to wait at one point for Valverde. Hesjedal moved up to catch Contador, and Nibali once again attacked.
That was too much for Froome, who finally turned on his speed, outpacing Nibali to the top. The Movistar duo was also caught and passed, and a loose group of the top favourites took the descent, no holds barred.
Things slowed down enough that Contador and Hesjedal caught the Froome group, as did a number of others, including a fresh supply of Sky riders. A new group of four – Hesjedal, Winner Anacona (Movistar), Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (FdJ) – pulled ahead of that group.
Geniez flew down the descent, his nearest followers nowhere in sight, more than a minute and a half back. AS he hit the valley, the Froome group was four minutes down.
The day’s only intermediate sprint came at the foot of Alpe d’Huez, and Geniez breezed right through it. The first group of followers ignored it equally, and rolled over the line as usual.
Geniez took 3.49 over Froome with him as he started on his way up Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin terms. Navardauskas was the first to pay for his efforts, dropping back from the chase group almost as soon as the ascent started.
Near-disaster for Nibali as he punctured at the foot of the climb. Three teammates dropped back immediately to try and pull him back to the field.
Quintana was the first to jump from the Froome group – or at least the first to make the attempt. The first time was unsuccessful, so he tried it again. Two Sky helpers caught him quickly, but a gap developed back to Froome. Poels stayed with Quintana and soon they were back again.
The road was, as to be expected, line with enthusiastic fans. One overly-enthusiastic fan reached out to grab Quintana’s saddle and push him along. Poels slapped at the fan, in an attempt to teach him to respect the riders.
Valverde then jumped, and was allowed to go. Third overall, his gap was large enough that it seemed unlikely he could really be of any danger. Logically enough, Quintana tried his luck moments later but again Poels pulled him back. Froome was at the end of the small group, and Contador fell back.
As Froome looked to be finally suffering, Quintana went again and joined Valverde. Porte and Poels had to slow to stay with their leader. It was a small gap, but it grew as the Movistar riders climbed easily while the yellow jersey showed weakness.
Geniez held on until 8km to go, where he had to drop back. Valverde soon could no longer keep up with his Colombian teammate, who was working his way up to another teammate, Anacona.
Contador dropped further back and was joined by Nibali at last. Quintana caught up with Anacona, less than a minute behind the leaders.
Hesjedal had tried earlier to dump Pinot, but was unsuccessful. The Frenchman later took off in a solo effort.
The fans crowding the road brought the race down to one lane, and fans spit at Froome, waved fireworks and generally endangered the race.
Quintana,, with some 30 seconds on Froome, took off with some 5km to go. Up out of the saddle, he picked up his speed, while behind him, Froome was unable to respond. He was now down to only one helper.
With 3 km to go, Pinot had 35 seconds on Quintana, and 1:37 on Froome. Quintana was still going great pace, catching and passing Hesjedal. His lead over Froome grew second by second. The road became less steep near the top, and Quintana seemed determined to make up the less than 30 seconds to the leader.
Froome lost Porte near the end, and was alone with Valverde. He was finally inspired to give his all, but it was too little too late, as he finished 1:20 behind Quintana – still enough to hold on to his GC lead.