Today was like Groundhog Day for the riders with an almost identical stage to yesterday’s, but one rider wanted to break the loop and spoil it for the sprinters.
The break was formed right away, with Maciej Bodnar attacking immediately after the start proper and Frederik Backaert and Marco Marcato followed. The peloton allowed the break to go away, and that was that. The peloton allowed the lead to go out to 4’30” during the first hour of racing, but Quick Step, Katusha and Lotto Soudal moved to the front of the peloton to start the chase.
With the sprinters teams powering the front of the peloton, the GC teams just had to focus on keeping their riders safe. This, however, didn’t come easy to a couple of riders. Jakob Fuglsang was involved in a crash in the feed zone which saw John Degenkolb go down heavily and Dario Cataldo abandon after a suspected fractured wrist.
At the intermediate sprint 142.5km into the stage, the break rolled through without much contest, while the peloton 2’20” behind lined up to battle it out for the minor placings. Matthews got a full team lead out from Teunissen and Arndt for the points, and had launched his sprint with 200m to go, but Kristoff managed to pip him at the post for the points in the two-up sprint. Marcel Kittel wheelsurfed his way through the pack to roll through behind Matthews, without even getting out of the saddle at all.
On the Cote d’Aire-sur-l’Adour a couple of kilometres later, Frederik Backaert rolled over for the points, but just as the break went over the top there was a crash in the peloton involving Bardet, Vichot, Matthews, Colbrelli and Arashiro. The peloton slowed down and allowed the riders to catch up, giving the break some relief. At the same time, Rudy Molard of FDJ attacked, but upon hearing that his team mate crashed he fell back into the peloton.
The break’s lead continued to fall as the number of kilometres did, and there was one rider not content with the pace and the buffer to the peloton. That rider was Maciej Bodnar. He attacked solo with 28km to go, with Marcato and Backaert left in the dust to fall back into the peloton. There was another crash involving Alberto Contador and his domestique Michael Gogl with 22km to go. Jarlinson Pantano fell back to help the Spanish GC rider for Trek, and managed to escort him safely back to the peloton.
From there, it became a time trial for the ages. Bodnar solo off the front with around 40” lead, and the sprinters teams assembling at the front to chase him down. First, the sprinters teams went at their usual pace, but as the kilometres ticked down and the gap wasn’t changing, they brought the big time trialists to the front. Jack Bauer led the Quickstep train while world champion Tony Martin was used for Katusha in the chase to Bodnar.
Leading into Pau, Bodnar had around a 100m lead with 1.4km to go. With two tight corners ahead before the long drag of a sprint, Bodnar went all out into the corners to stay out. Coming out of the final corner with 600m to go, he was caught by Sabatini leading out the peloton with 400m to go – but this breakaway provided tension and excitement like his breakaway with Sagan a year ago.
For the sprint however, it was textbook for this Tour. Kristoff and Matthews had the best leap from the peloton in 3rd and 4th wheels behind Boasson Hagen, but those three riders ended up boxing each other in. Meanwhile, on the other side of the road from many riders deep, Kittel launches with around 200m to go and storms up the straight, and with no one able to hold his wheel, he got himself his 5th stage of this year’s Tour. Groenewegen came in 2nd after being unable to hold onto Kittel’s wheel, and Boasson Hagen beat Matthews and Kristoff in the 3-man contest on the right-hand side of the road, with Dan McLay taking a sneaky 5th place from Kristoff.
Tomorrow’s stage sees a return to the mountains – this time the Pyrenees. A punchy finish into Peyragudes awaits the riders, as the mountains get harsher and harsher throughout the day before the Port de Bales and Col de Peyresourde to finish the day off. This will be one of the final warmups for the climbers before the Alps in just a few days’ time.