In its third and final day in Brittany, the Tour de France peloton tackled the second stage of lumpy roads across the region, finishing in a leg-breaking circuit that climbed twice on the harsh Mûr-de-Bretagne, the so-called Alpe d’Huez of Brittany. In another exhibition of strong teamwork and solid effort, BORA-hansgrohe responded to the hard pace of the stage and the crosswinds and brought Rafal Majka and Peter Sagan safely to contest the last and crucial ascent. The team’s two leaders were inside the select group of riders that crossed the finish line behind the stage winner. With a number of GC contenders conceding seconds on the final climb, Rafal Majka edged up to ninth at the top of the order while UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, tightened his grip on the green jersey.
Just as the terrain on stage 5 made the going tough for the peloton, the parcours for today’s stage was little different. Four categorised climbs dotted the route, with the final climb, the 2km Mûr-de-Bretagne being the day’s focal point. At 2km in length and with an average gradient of 6.9%, this climb would be difficult to conquer just the once after a long day’s racing, but it would actually be ridden twice over a 20km finishing circuit. Riders hoping to make a claim for the stage win would be able to get a feel for the finale on the first ascent, but few would be relishing the idea of a second attempt at the end of the 181km stage.
The Team Tactics
The tough final 20km would make the outcome of the stage difficult to predict. A lot would depend on how the day progressed and how hard the peloton would have to work to draw in the day’s break. The team would be looking to the intermediate sprint at the 135km point to take some extra points in the fight for the Green Jersey, before preparing for the difficult finale on the Mûr-de-Bretagne. Bonifications would be available in the closing kilometres, which would only add to the potential chaos of the finale. It would be essential to keep Rafał Majka safe here, as well as working to bring the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, into a good position to fight for the stage win if the opportunity presented itself.
The teams that had the breakaway as part of the day’s strategy made their intentions clear from the drop of the flag. The second the peloton passed the spectacular numbers of crowds at the neutral part of the race, attacks were launched and a group of five escapees was quickly formed, leaving the peloton one minute adrift in the first kilometers. With the day being all about the Mûr-de-Bretagne and the crosswinds further up the parcours, the peloton was happy to let the breakaway go straight away. The five men at the front saw their advantage creep up to nearly nine minutes before the strong teams came to the fore, putting the hammer down and making their intentions clear.
Crosswinds and exposed landscapes wreaked havoc, splitting the peloton into pieces 75km into the race, catching some of the teams off guard in arrears. BORA-hansgrohe had all its powerhouse, safely, at the front of the leading group, sparing them from the effort and energy the laggards spent to make the peloton regroup.
With 45km to go, UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, contested the intermediate sprint, bagging more points and keeping his main opponents for the green jersey under check. As the peloton entered the finishing circuit and prepared to climb the Mûr-de-Bretagne for the first time, the red and white stripes of Austrian National Champion, Lukas Pöstlberger, headed the bunch, taking turns with Gregor Mühlberger, Daniel Oss and Marcus Burghardt, with the rest of the squad protected.
It was a leg-breaking circuit, with the harsh and unforgiving Mûr-de-Bretagne climbed twice. Rafal Majka and Peter Sagan were brought perfectly into position, kicked hard and stayed within the fast-dwindling leading group as the finish line was approaching. A late attack by Daniel Martin brought the Irishman stage victory as some of the main contenders were finding the gradient too hard and were conceding seconds. Rafal Majka and Peter Sagan took fifth and eighth, respectively. Rafal edged up one spot at the top of the order to ninth, 52″ behind race leader, while Peter extended his lead in the points classification.
From the Finish Line
“It was a fast stage and a very tough finale. Similar to almost every day so far, our team was strong and the guys put me and Peter in a perfect position. When Martin attacked nobody was able to follow. I was in the wheel of Thomas and Porte, but they couldn’t close the gap. I thought about giving it a go with 1km to go, but it was headwind so I decided to stay with the others. In the end, it was a good result, a lot of guys lost some seconds, so I am happy to finish 5th without any time losses.” – Rafal Majka
“We can be really happy with the results and the way the boys rode again today. The team was always in control and at the front when needed. They protected Rafal and Peter perfectly until the end, and on the last climb, it was up to their legs. We knew that it was going be a hard finish for Peter, but he was close again. I am very happy for Rafa, he proved he is in strong shape and while some GC contenders already lost some seconds, he was up there with the best.” . Enrico Poitschke, Sports DIrector