On Bastille Day, the French were highly motivated to make the break, get the points, and win the stage.
Indeed, it was two Frenchmen who started the attacks out of Saint-Girons. Warren Barguil – current KoM leader – and Thomas Voeckler – French legend – went right from the gun. There was a false flat for most of the start of the stage, with Jaokb Fuglsang suffering before the climbing really started and falling out the back early. Arthur Vichot was also struggling after falling sick, and both riders ended up abandoning during the stage. The peloton wasn’t content with Barguil and Voeckler out the front and kept attacking, eventually reeling them in at kilometre 10.
Gilbert, Chavanel and De Marchi all attacked before the sprint point in Seix. In the sprint, Chavanel went hard for the points, and provided the first French victory of the day at the intermediate sprint. Back in the peloton, it was a 4 man sprint for the points between Matthews, Kittel, Colbrelli and Greipel. Colbrelli and Greipel were no match for the two major contenders for the Green, with Matthews being able to get the major points. However, Kittel minimised his losses by rolling in directly behind Matthews – saving energy while getting the most points possible.
On the first climb of the day – the Col de Latrape – De Marchi went solo from the front three as the peloton kept riding aggressively and reigning in the breaks. De Marchi had a slim lead over the peloton through the climb, but had no real aspirations for KoM points or the stage. On the other hand, Barguil tried his second attack of the day and got away from the peloton, but was marked by Contador. The two went over to bridge De Marchi, before also being joined by Landa on the descent. On the top of the climb, Barguil went solo just to secure the 2nd place points behind De Marchi still 15” ahead, with a small bunch of riders on his tail.
On the descent between the Col de Latrape and the Col d’Agnes, Barguil, Contador and Landa joined De Marchi to make a group of 4 as the climb started. Landa and Contador dropped Barguil and De Marchi, but Barguil ended up joining Quintana’s attack from the peloton. Quintana also had his team mate Betancur in support, but Betancur was promptly dropped before making an impact. Contador led the pace up the climb between the two leaders, but as the time gap to Aru’s Yellow started to reach the 2 minute mark, Landa started sharing the work to try and open a wider gap.
On Barguil’s third attack of the day on the Col d’Agnes, he started bridging to the front two while gaining time on the Yellow Jersey group. He took Quintana with him, while Team Sky also sent Michal Kwiatkowski up the road, who would be used to protect Froome later. The front two had opened up a 2’40” gap by the top of the Col d’Agnes – and Froome and Bardet were not happy with this. The two best descenders in the bunch flew down the back of the Col d’Agnes to bring the time back down to 2’10”, while the two breakaway groups were playing cat and mouse before the Mur de Peguere. There was a 10” gap between the 2 breaks at the base of the final climb, while the gap to the Yellow Jersey was just below 2’10”.
Martin set a hard tempo in the Yellow Jersey group on the Mur de Peguere to try and claw back Landa who was in virtual Yellow, as well as put Aru and Froome in trouble. He blew apart the group, leaving 7 riders in the group and reducing the gap to the front to below 2 minutes. The two break groups joined together on the climb, but Kwiatkowski was unable to hold the pace and dropped off to help Froome.
At the same time, Chris Froome started attacking the group, dropping Martin and Yates who were unable to hold the pace. Aru, Bardet and Uran stuck with Froome, while Meintjes rode his way back in by riding a constant tempo and not responding to the attacks. On the top of the Mur de Peguere, Barguil looked back at the group and leapt for the points, with the others rolling through and not contesting him. Back in the peloton, Froome attacked again near the summit but was marked by Aru, with both rolling through for 1 and 2 points respectively.
From there, it was 25km of descent into Foix. Froome kept attacking Aru and the group on the descent, but Aru still managed to respond – and sometimes get others to work for him to chase attackers. Kwiatkowski tried to provide a block at some stages, but even that was un-successful. Everyone had their hand at attacking the Yellow Jersey – Bardet went solo for a fleeting moment but was caught immediately, while Uran was solo for around 2km before being reeled in by Kwiatkowski. The gap to the front kept shrinking as the attacks came on the descent, and put Landa out of virtual Yellow and all Aru had to do was mark attacks from his own group.
With 5km to go, Martin attacked the front group for one last time, and Yates bridged onto his wheel and the two rode away from the Yellow Jersey group. Meanwhile up the front, Quintana, Contador, Landa and Barguil were playing a game of cat and mouse of attacks. Contador launched the first attack with 1km to go, not trusting in his sprint. Barguil, desperate to make up for his close second place, marked Contador with ease.
At the hairpin with 250m to go, Barguil got the perfect line out of the corner, and easily rode Contador off his wheel. Barguil had enough time to post up and get a photo of his own, this time not for a close finish but for a decisive win for his nation on France’s national day. Martin and Yates managed to get 9 seconds on the Yellow Jersey group as they sprinted for time, while Kwiatkowski led the Froome / Aru Group in safely 1’48” behind the winners. With this, Aru didn’t lose time on Froome, Bardet and Uran, but Quintana and Landa managed to claw time back to the Italian – with both riders finding form just before the Alps.
Tomorrow’s stage sees a stair case into Rodez, and while the climbing isn’t particularly harsh, the day is filled with false flats. There is also a kicker coming into Rodez, which could shake up how a sprint works out.