It was back to the mountains today, where BORA-hansgrohe’s Rafał Majka would be aiming to protect his GC top ten position. After a flurry of attempts to breakaway, today Emanuel Buchmann and Marcus Burghardt showed their strengths as they each played their role in the breaks of the day. While a solo breakaway rider took the stage, Rafał rode strong to finish with the bunch, his GC position unchanged.
After a week dominated by sprints, the climbers had a fantastic chance today to show their form and to make their mark on the Tour de France. The first of two days of climbing saw riders take on three categorised climbs – rising in difficulty as the 187.5km stage progressed. The final climb, a first category leg burner, summited around 12km from the finish, meaning a late attack could stay out and take the win – as well as taking some valuable seconds in the GC contest.
There was much at stake today, so being in the right position was essential. For this reason, the day’s break could be absolutely pivotal, and all of the GC teams would be watching the attacks to make sure the breakaway wasn’t going to adversely affect their ambitions for the Yellow Jersey. The moment the stage left the neutralised zone, the attacks came again and again, but as quickly as the riders got away, they were brought back in again. After more than 40km of pushing, BORA-hansgrohe’s Marcus Burghardt got in the mix, with the most successful move of the day to that point, but again after a few kilometres was brought back, but finally, after 70km, a large group managed to escape, this time with Emanuel Buchmann in their midst, with Marcus again bridging across minutes later.
In spite of the best efforts of the break, the peloton was determined to make sure the escape didn’t last until the end of the stage, sweeping the stragglers up at the foot of the day’s final climb, with the remaining nine in their sights. With just 1:20 separating the bunch from the front of the break, there was every chance the catch could be made, but as expected, the attacks came and a solo rider pushed on ahead – clearly in pain as the day’s efforts took their toll – but in spite of severe cramp, Direct Energie’s Calmejane took the win, with Rafał Majka finishing in eighth spot with the peloton, and no changes to his GC tenth position.
After a tough stage, Rafał felt his form improving as the day hit the tougher climbs. “It was a very tough stage, with a strong pace from the start and Emu did a great job in the breakaway, putting pressure on our main GC rivals. I didn’t have my best form in the first part of the stage and the second category climb was quite tough on my legs. However, on the final first category climb I felt my form back to what I would have expected and was able to follow the GC group while preserving my energy. I feel confident for tomorrow. I know it will be extremely difficult but I am determined and the morale is very good within the team.”
Having ridden so strongly in the day’s break, Emanuel Buchmann had every reason to be pleased with his ride. “I’m very happy with my performance today and with what we have achieved. Following our plan, I went in the big breakaway. In such a big group it was difficult to find a consensus and a number of riders didn’t want to cooperate because of my GC position. There were many attacks and counterattacks trying to split the big group, but I decided not to follow when, finally, a smaller group escaped on the front. The intermediate climbs weren’t too steep, so riders that weren’t pure climbers like myself had a chance and had set a very strong pace. I didn’t want to go over the limit and chose to ride at my own rhythm, dropping back to the GC group in order to be with Pawel and Rafał for the final climb.”
With Rafał’s GC position protected successfully, Team Coach, Patxi Vila, was happy to see the team working together so well. “I think we can be satisfied with how the stage played out today and with the performance of our guys, in particular, Emanuel. It was our plan in the morning to send him in the front if a big group broke away. This is what happened and he stayed there, putting pressure on the peloton. Given his standing in the GC and the possibility he could take the Yellow Jersey, we knew that Sky would work very hard in the peloton, doing all the effort to keep the escapees under control. It was our plan to wear them as much as possible ahead of tomorrow’s stage, which everybody considers to be the toughest of this year’s Tour.”
Tomorrow is going to be a hard, hard day, with the climbing starting straight away. Seven categorised climbs dot the stage, including no fewer than three Hors Catégorie climbs – the first of the race – there will be absolutely nowhere to hide. If the GC riders are on form, here is where they’re going to show their cards, and likewise, if there are any doubts over their condition, there is no chance of them getting through this stage unscathed.