Big breaks, big climbs, and GC drama on the slopes of the Mont Du Chat means huge changes in the GC race as we enter the first rest day.
Tim Wellens was the first to attack on the mountain stage in the wet. That ticks all the “Tim Wellens attack” boxes, no? A huge break was then formed up the road of riders who could potentially win the stage. Tiesj Benoot, Thomas de Gendt and Tony Gallopin were up the road for Lotto as well, Michael Matthews for Sunweb targeting the intermediate sprint while Warren Barguil was targeting the KoMs. AG2R were represented by Jan Bakelants and Alexis Vuillermoz in the break on the stage that finishes in their team’s home base. Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema, Carlos Betancur and Pierre Rolland are a few more names in the 39-large break which was slowly whittled down through the day.
As Thibaut Pinot outsprinted Tim Wellens for the points on the Cote des Neyrolles, Robert Gesink and Manuele Mori were caught in a crash back in the peloton, with both riders abandoning injured. Only a few minutes later, Thibaut Pinot also beat Thomas de Gendt in a sprint on the Col de Berentin to take 2 points there. Back in the peloton, after the Col de Berentin there was another crash between former team mates Sepulveda and Stake Laengen. The peloton kept the break on a leash of around 3’30” for most of the day. On the Cat 3 Cote de Franclens, Thomas de Gendt took the points ahead of Lutsenko as the break kept attacking each other to get these KoM points.
Tim Wellens and Nikias Arndt were the first two dropped from the front group as the break started the Col de la Biche. The breakaway splintered on the first HC climb of the day, with Primoz Roglic attacking the group and going solo to take the points, while Vuillermoz, Barguil and Pinot gapped the main group to sprint for 2nd place. Vuillermoz won that sprint for the minor points, although it was more of a slow breakaway drag as he put out the tempo on the front.
On the downhill, there was two crashes on the wet roads. In the break Jesus Herrada, Kozhatayev and Alexey Lutsenko fell hard. A few minutes later, in a similar spot, Geraint Thomas and Rafal Majka crashed with both taking severe damage to jerseys and bikes – and Thomas abandoning with a suspected broken collarbone. At this time, AG2R were powering the break and peloton, dominating the stage into their home base.
On the Grand Colombier, the break had splintered into many groups. The front 7 – Bakelants, Poljanski, Domont, Vuillermoz, Benoot, Barguil and Pantano – had gone up the road, but as the gradients ramped up only Benoot, Barguil and Vuillermoz could keep the pace. Roglic had attacked from the main break to take time and get higher up on the points standings, while Barguil was uncontested on the sprint at the top of the Grand Colombier to take the points. The Grand Colombier also gave the break some breathing room to the peloton of around 6’20”. The front group reformed into 5 on the descent, with Roglic and Mollema bridging after hard efforts on the slopes to get points.
After the Grand Colombier, the peloton put the hammer down with Team Sky on the front and started slashing the breakaway’s advantage. Pierre Latour had a flat tyre on the way down, while Nairo Quintana also needed a full bike change after a mechanical. The breakaway was slowly gaining members back after the descent, with 11 riders in the group contesting the intermediate sprint. The front group was rather unorganised going into the sprint, but Michael Matthews went early, got ahead, and cruised over the line for the points – his day was over. The Cote de Jongieux was over before you even realised it started, with Jan Bakelants rolling over for the single point after breaking away with Gallopin before the Mont du Chat.
Both the peloton and the break were whittling down. Back in the bunch, with 42km to go, there were 30 riders in the Froome Group. Gallopin and Bakelants were at the head of the race, with riders scattered between the groups. However, Mollema and Barguil surged as the Mont du Chat started to bridge to the leading two. Bakelants was dropped early, while only a handful of minutes later, Barguil caught Gallopin while dropping Mollema and went solo. Back in the Froome group, there was drama and chaos. Chris Froome indicated he needed a bike change after a rear puncture, and Fabio Aru, directly behind Froome seeing this, attacked the group.
While Porte, Bardet and Quintana chased the attack down, and Froome got back to the group, this moment of chaos allowed Aru’s team mate Fuglsang to attack directly after Froome rejoined. As the climb went on, the group dwindled. Contador found himself off the back early, along with many riders from the breakaway getting passed by the Yellow Jersey group. Froome, realising the group was in trouble, increased the pace significantly. Porte, Uran and Bardet could respond, while Aru who was in trouble managed to bridge across. Barguil, solo off the front by about 15”, took the points on top of the Mont du Chat, while the Yellow Jersey group caught Fuglsang and had passed everyone from the break but Barguil.
On the descent of the Mont du Chat, there was a sickening crash between Richie Porte and Dan Martin. Porte missed the blind corner and was forced to brake behind Aru, which led to him going off the road and crashing into the mountain side. Dan Martin was unable to avoid Porte going across the road and rode right into him, taking them both down. Porte was put on a spinal board and taken to hospital, while Dan Martin got up only to crash again minutes later. While this was all happening, Bardet attacked off the front to catch Barguil, and caught him at the bottom of the descent.
Into Chambery, Bardet was solo off the front 20” ahead of the 5 man group of Froome, Aru, Fuglsang, Uran and Barguil. Rigoberto Uran had a mechanical with his rear derailleur and shifting, and went back to neutral service to get it fixed on the fly, although he was left with one gear for the finish. The technical finish saw the riders play a game of cat and mouse weaving through the corners, with Bardet reeled in with 2km to go for a reduced bunch sprint. Froome went early at 1km to go to try and drop the rest of the group, but his efforts were in vain as they stayed in contact. With around 400m to go, Fuglsang went on the attack for the sprint, with Uran slowly charging up in the big ring and Bardet nimbly starting his own sprint. Barguil, boxed along the barriers, had to wait until Fuglsang was out of energy to start his sprint.
Uran, after his long windup, was released and on full throttle ahead of the starting Barguil and Froome. As the line neared, it looked like on first look that Barguil had pipped Uran for the stage victory. Barguil himself thought he had won and celebrated, but in a photo finish, Uran had around 2cm on Barguil and took the stage win. On a day where the emotions spectators felt looked the profile of the stages, the drama in the sprint was the final piece of the puzzle.
After the chaos of today, there is a rest day tomorrow before the riders start again. There were 68 riders outside the 39’58” time limit, but the jury is yet to decide who is in and who is out. Whatever the jury decides, the Tour got interesting today.