The riders had one last roll of the legs on the flats before the Alps really start, but the leaders still had to worry about one thing – echelons.
With the KoMs early in the day, it wouldn’t take a mastermind to guess that Warren Barguil was really pressuring the attacks early on. However, he couldn’t get a solid group going, and the race was all together for the opening kilometres. Eventually, Lammertink and Tulik got away from the pack, with Burghardt bridging to get three riders out the front. They were all involved in the starting attacks and managed to get a small gap, but the peloton wasn’t done with them yet and reeled them back in.
Thomas de Gendt was also very active at the front and managed to get away with Degand and Chavanel. Stephen Cummings and Alessandro De Marchi bridged at the foot of the Cote de Boussoulet, but the attack was short lived as Dan Martin tried to sneak away and forced the peloton to up the tempo. De Gendt, Degand and Chavanel attacked again, taking Edet and Impey with them this time up the Boussoulet. At the top of the Boussoulet, it was the two most aggressive riders taking the points – with De Gendt rolling over for 2 while Chavanel took just 1. The group of 5 had a small lead of around 30”,
With the wind high on the day, splits were forming in the peloton. Team Sky pulled on the front when the GC was being contested, but it was Sunweb on the front for most of the day trying to break a Gilbert-less Quickstep for Kittel. It worked, with Kittel getting dropped early, which meant Matthews could have a clean go at the intermediate and final sprints and dig into Kittel’s lead some more.
He was in with a fighting chance of rejoining, but Quickstep didn’t have the legs to help him and instead chose to help Martin for the rest of the day, and just made sure he finished inside time limit. A rider who also suffered from the high tempo at the front was George Bennett, who eventually abandoned. Bouhanni was dropped, but with the help of Lemoine and Edet, managed to rejoin after some pushing and insane pulling in the wind.
For the following kilometres until the Col du Rouvey, Sunweb led the peloton to protect Matthews and launch Barguil for the single point on offer on the Cat 4 climb. They were successful, with Barguil adding to his tally and getting one hand on the polkadot for Paris. After the Col du Rouvey, there was the sprint point in Chantemerle-les-Bles at the end of the descent. Coming around 44km before the finish, it was a warmup sprint for the finale. Matthews had a solid leadout from Sunweb the whole way through, with Ramon Sinkeldam splitting the peloton meaning that only Greipel and Colbrelli could challenge Matthews. However, there was no contest, with Matthews having all the time to keep looking over his shoulder and collect the full 20 points.
With the wind and road conditions constantly changing, teams were assembling at the front to protect their leaders. Of course, this meant that there were some falls in the battle for position. Serge Pauwels fell as the road narrowed with 35km to go, but was helped back into the peloton by Cummings. With 15km to go, Pantano and Domont were involved with a crash with a motorcycle as the wind was picking up. As this crash happened, Team Sky sped up at the front and forced a split in the peloton. The only riders caught out were Dan Martin and Louis Meintjes, with Aru learning from his mistakes a few days ago into Rodez. The split was never able to rejoin, even with Quickstep pulling hard for Martin.
Coming into Romans-sur-Isere, there were 32 riders in the front group. Matthews, Van Avermaet, Boasson Hagen and Degenkolb were expected to contest the sprint, but Daniele Bennati of Movistar had different ideas, going solo with 2km to go. However, Nikias Arndt and the Sunweb train (who had been pulling for around 120km) reeled him in with 700m to go, before starting the leadouts on the winding roads of Romans-sur-Isere. Van Avermaet was forced onto the front with 300m to go in the headwind, with Matthews sitting in 2nd wheel and Degenkolb in 3rd. Matthews started his sprint around Van Avermaet, and Degenkolb went to take the inside line before getting boxed in. Boasson Hagen stayed on Matthews’ wheel, but launched a bit too late. Van Avermaet was fading on the other side of the road, leaving Matthews to break out and take the stage win and more crucial Green Jersey points.
Tomorrow’s stage from La Mure to Serre-Chevalier is the start of the Alps, with 2 HC climbs and a descent finish. With a Cat 2 before the sprint point, it will be a game for survival for Kittel to see if he can defend his Green Jersey from the fast-finishing Matthews.