Wet roads saw the peloton navigate tricky descents and slippery slopes on their journey through the Pyrenees, with drama on the mountain top finish into Peyragudes.
It took a while for a break to establish on the flat roads out of Pau. Michael Gogl, Marcus Burghardt and Guillaume van Keirsbulck tried to go right from the gun, but were caught quickly by the riders desperate to be in the break. Warren Barguil and Thibaut Pinot were firing shots at each other on a day with many KoM points on offer, but neither of them made the 12 rider selection. On the other hand, Michael Matthews and Marcel Kittel both made it into the break to battle for green. This was in Kittel’s favour, as there was only 1 Cat 4 climb before the sprint point.
The final 12 man selection included Gautier, Erviti, Kung, Ulissi, Cummings, Kittel, De Gendt and Matthews as the peloton allowed the break to finally go out after the first 20km of racing. On the Cote de Gapvern, Thomas de Gendt managed to get the sole point on offer, with the breaks lead blowing out to as much as 6’20”. The intermediate sprint saw Matthews and Kittel duel it out, but Kittel couldn’t contain Matthews even with Bauer’s leadout, and Matthews took the full 20 points in Loures-Barousse.
Straight after the Loures-Barousse sprint point, the riders had to tackle the Cat 2 Col des Ares. The pace wasn’t immense up the climb with Kittel managing to maintain contact, but Thomas de Gendt had his sights set on the KoM points today and attacked slightly to just make sure he got the 5 points. Matthews, de Kort and Simon took the scraps on the climb. Around 10km later, the Cat 1 Col de Mente awaited the breakaway.
There was no hard attack from the break or the peloton on the first of two Cat 1 climbs on the day, with Matthews and De Gendt sprinting for the points on the top of the Col de Mente with Matthews taking his second ‘sprint’ of the day to help defend Barguil’s polka-dot jersey. Simon, Ulissi, Gautier and Erviti also scored points, while Kittel was dropped early on in the climb and was caught on the descent.
The climbs just got harder as the day dragged on, with the HC Port de Bales coming shortly after the Col de Mente. Feillu and Bouet of Fortuneo attacked from the peloton to start their bridge to the break, but were unsuccessful. As the climb started, riders from the front and the peloton dropped like flies. Simon, Erviti, Ulissi and de Kort were dropped from the break as the climb went on, while Chaves, Pinot, Calmejane and the injured Fuglsang were dropped from the main bunch on the sole HC climb of the day.
Thomas de Gendt went solo with 5.5km to go in an attempt to try and get maximum points on the HC climb, but Cummings bridged with 4km to go on the climb. From there, Cummings powered on and dropped De Gendt, taking the maximum points as the peloton closed in, 1’40” behind. Back in the peloton, Warren Barguil attacked to try and maximise his points gain on the climb, and managed to get 10 points to solidify his lead in the classification. On the way down the Port de Bales, Cyril Gautier careered into the side of the mountain and crashed nastily, but got up safely. If it had been the other side of the road though, it would have been a long drop.
In an attack similar to Bodnar yesterday, it was Cummings v the peloton. He had a 1’45” lead with 20km and 2 climbs to go, and pushed the lead out after an incident in the peloton. Chris Froome missed a turn just before the Col de Peyresourde and almost crashed. Aru and Nieve also went with the Yellow Jersey on this rider error, but the peloton stood up and waited for the leader to rejoin.
The first rider from the peloton to drop on the Cat 1 Col de Peyresourde was Nairo Quintana, not having his best tour after a hard Giro. Sky held a hard tempo on the second-last climb of the day and reeled in Cummings 3km from the summit. There were 10 riders left at the top of the Peyresourde, with Alberto Contador being unable to hold the wheel of the bunch as they rolled over. No one attacked for the points, with every rider trying to stay protected with one climb to come, but Nieve and Landa leading the group rolled over for 10 and 8 points respectively.
On the climb into Peyragudes, Froome still had Landa and Nieve to work for him. Nieve fell off with 1.5km to go, leaving 9 riders in the group as they went under the Flamme Rouge. Landa led the peloton with a high tempo as the rest of the group struggled. George Bennett attacked first with 700m to go, but was unable to get away from the insane tempo set by Landa.
Aru attacked after the last bend with 350m to go as they approached the wall of Peyragudes, and Froome couldn’t hold the wheel. Bardet and Uran caught Aru, and the three of them left the rest of the group in their wake as they attacked on the climb. Romain Bardet just kept going…and going…and going, and no one could catch him as the kicker into the finish hit nearly 20%, and Bardet took the stage over Uran and Aru – each gaining crucial bonus seconds over Froome.
Landa went solo ignoring his leader in trouble for 4th, and without Landa’s assistance Sky had given up the Yellow Jersey for the first time in their team’s history. Who took it? The aggressive Aru, who has one stage win already this year and now has at least 1 day in Yellow. Tomorrow’s short stage on Bastille Day is an exciting one as well, with 101km of climbing and descending action all day from Saint-Girons to Foix. As per every Bastille Day, expect a Frenchman out the front or going for the win – it’s their day.