Oh, there’s a stage between Izoard and the Marseille TT? The 221km flat stage into Salon-de-Provence brought a big break, no teams really wanting to chase them down, and a defence of the GC at the back of the race.
On the Belgian National Day, plenty of Belgians wanted to be in the break. Vermote opened the attacks, with Guillaume van Keirsbulck being very active right from the gun. They were reeled in quickly, before a group of 7 went out after kilometre 6 – including Greg van Avermaet. Again, they were reeled in before 10km had elapsed. Just before the Col Lebraut, 8 more riders went away including original attackers Vermote and Van Keirsbulck, but again they were caught on the climb.
The high intensity racing at the start of the day put many riders in trouble, including Ondrej Cink (who eventually abandoned with an injury), Stake Laengen and Kristoff. Sicard, Rolland and Gesbert made a French trio on the Col Lebraut to challenge for the 2 points on offer, with Sicard coming out on top in a small sprint with Rolland. They were caught after the summit, and after 30km there was still no break.
It took an hour of racing to get a break going. Elie Gesbert and Lilian Calmejane went clear, before 18 riders followed them. Notably, Thomas de Gendt, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Albasini, Bauke Mollema and Jan Bakelants made the break. With the nearest GC threat in the group over 45 minutes behind, the peloton had no reason to chase with such a big stage coming up tomorrow, and just let them go. On the Cote de Breziers, Hardy took 2 points ahead of De Gendt on a mini sprint, but the break was more concerned with taking time on the peloton. By kilometre 70, they had a 7’30” lead. It was stabilised by Team Sky around there, until riders started to launch attacks ahead of the sprint point in Banon.
Thomas de Gendt launched an attack around 600m out from the sprint point, and didn’t stop there. He didn’t just want the points, he wanted to start another break. Gesbert, Bakelands and Calmejane all went for his wheel. The semi-attack was neutralised, and the break with a healthy buffer of over 8 minutes started setting up for the finish. Keukeleire went solo with 61km to go, but was reeled in 4km later. On the Col du Pointu, Sicard, Gesbert and Kiserlovski gapped the rest of the break in an attack, and kept it going all the way to the summit. Sicard took the majority of the points on offer on the climb, but a Molard-led chase reeled the attack back in on the descent.
With 20km to go, the breakaway was getting a bit antsy. Riders were getting by just wheelsurfing and not putting in the effort, and those working wanted to shake those riders off. Calmejane tried the first attack, but was quickly marked. However, straight afterwards, Jens Keukeleire caught half the break napping and split the group in two. The 20 man group was then split into a 9 and 11 man group, with Bakelants, Bennati, Albasini, Keukeleire, Boasson Hagen, De Gendt, Arndt, Chavanel and Gesbert making up the front 9.
From this group, Gesbert tried the first solo attack with 8km to go for the stage win. He was caught by compatriot Chavanel at 6km to go with his own attack, but the group reacted and reeled everything back in. With 4km to go though, Boasson Hagen set down the decisive attack. With him really pulling hard on the front, he approached a roundabout with around 2km to go and went down the aggressive right-hand side, and gapped the rest of the bunch.
From there, it became a race to the line – the solo Boasson Hagen and the eager group behind. Arndt managed to get away on the roundabout by going down the same side as Boasson Hagen, but was never able to catch the flying Norwegian. There was no photo, there was no doubt – Edvald Boasson Hagen has finally won a stage of the 2017 Tour loud and clear. The peloton came in safely around 10 minutes behind the leaders, with no major casualties.
The penultimate stage in Marseille tomorrow will give the riders one last chance to go for Yellow. It’s mostly flat, but features a small climb. Will anyone beat Froome? Who knows.