A deceptively flat stage saw some sprinters struggle and the puncheurs in the break push the peloton all the way into Rodez.
As soon as Christian Prudhomme waved the flag for the depart reel, there were attacks. You could argue that Voeckler started his attack before the flat was waved, and was already off the front as the camera panned down onto the peloton. Maxime Bouet followed his break immediately, while Timo Roosen and Thomas De Gendt broke away from the front of the peloton to make the group of 4. Around 5km later, Reto Hollenstein attacked from the peloton, with a gap of 1’45” to make up to the front. He eventually bridged at around kilometre 13, and the peloton let the break go for the day.
Thomas De Gendt and Thomas Voeckler shared the pace work as the break were allowed around 2’30” on the peloton throughout the day. As the sprint point in Rabastens approached, De Gendt lifted the pace to go for the points. He broke away from the break with around 300m to go, and only Bouet followed. However, he was left uncontested for the points. The red of the break just rolled through. Back in the peloton, Kittel and Matthews went for another two-up sprint. Kittel doubted his ability to make it to the end of the punchy stage and went hard here, and got up over Matthews for an extra 10 points.
The peloton cruised most of the way and there wasn’t much action in either group. As the finish neared, Sunweb lined up at the start of the peloton to increase the pace as the hills started. This put Matthews in an advantageous position for the finish as well as put Marcel Kittel in difficulty so he couldn’t contest the final sprint. This tactic worked, with Kittel being dropped with 45km to go and Matthews sitting safely in the peloton. As the roads starting to become a bit lumpy, Fabio Felline also abandoned the race with illness – quite the loss for Trek and Degenkolb on a stage like this.
On the Cote du Viaduc du Viaur, Timo Roosen had a puncture at the bottom of the climb, putting him out of the front bunch. He managed to bridge across, only for the group to be destroyed by Thomas De Gendt pacing on the front for the KoM points. Everyone but Voeckler was put in difficulty, as Voeckler allowed De Gendt to take the 2 points on the top. The group ended up rejoining after the climb, but as soon as they rejoined, the Cote de Contres started. Thomas de Gendt yet again blew up the front group and only Voeckler could follow.
The peloton slowly crept up on the front two, bringing the lead down to under 100 seconds by the top of the Cote de Contres. Again, De Gendt paced Voeckler over the top of the climb for 2 points.After the Cote de Contres, Voeckler wasn’t able to hold the wheel of De Gendt on the undulating roads and eventually fell away back into the peloton. At 25km to go, his lead was slashed to 1 minutes. This was halved by 15km to go, and was evaporated by 13km to go on the climb after Bonnecombe.
The peloton was strung out as teams wanted to protect their riders up the front. Sunweb occupied the main spot at the front, but Sky, BMC and Orica moved up to protect Froome, GVA and Yates respectively. After the two Thomas’ were reeled back in, Tony Martin and Tony Gallopin went together with around 12.5km to go, but Gallopin was quickly dropped as the World TT Champion powered away from the bunch. Arndt and Geschke for Sunweb chased Martin down eventually, but expended effort which could have been used for the lumps into Rodez.
As soon as Martin was reeled in though, his team mate jumped from the group. Lammertink tried to get a break going, but was marked by Arndt and Caruso who had ambitions for their sprinters back in the bunch. Perichon from Fortuneo also joined the 3 up front, and the group got a 15” lead by the top of the final climb with 10km to go. Team Sky moved up to the front to put the peloton and the break under some pressure. As Sky was reeling them in, Perichon turned the heat up and tried to go solo with 8km to go. However, his move was in vain, as the break was caught with around 5km to go. Lammertink also put in a last ditch effort as Quickstep moved to the front, but Bauer and Vermote shut that down quickly. Aru was in trouble at the back of the group, but managed to stay in contact as the riders entered Rodez.
Quickstep rode manically on the front of the peloton with Team Sky in an attempt to drop Aru before Rodez. Aru managed to tack himself onto the back of the peloton with 2km to go, but the peloton was splitting again just before the Flamme Rouge. Matthews, Bouhanni and Van Avermaet were rubbing shoulders as the final kicker approached in Rodez. Oliver Naesen, however, launched the first attack with 500m to go. Gilbert chased and passed Naesen, and only Van Avermaet and Matthews could follow. However, Matthews sitting in the slipstream of Van Avermaet all the way up the climb was able to ride around him with 200m to go, and had enough time to post up, zip up, and roll the legs slowly before the finish for his first stage win, and a crucial 50 points for the Green Jersey. However, even more importantly, Fabio Aru lost contact with Chris Froome, and ended up dropped 25 seconds and losing the Yellow Jersey back to Froome.
Tomorrow’s stage is a hilly affair into Le Puy-en-Velay before the rest day. 4 categorised climbs await the riders before a downhill finish, and if a puncheur stays in contact they could take the stage again in a sprint.