Damiano Caruso led the way for BMC Racing Team in the closing stages of stage 14, battling to fifth on the line after spending a day at the front of the race alongside teammates, Stefan Küng and Greg Van Avermaet.
Stage 14 saw the Tour de France enter the Massif Central region of France and featured four categorized climbs including a punchy final 3km ascent, with an average gradient of over 10%, up to the finish on the airport runway in Mende.
Crosswinds in an exposed section of road less than 10km into the 188km stage caused early havoc on the road with the peloton split into at least four echelons and in the midst of this excitement, seven riders were able to jump off the front and go clear at the head of the race.
A handful of kilometers later, the main bunch appeared to be settling down behind the initial breakaway while in between a large group of 25 riders, including Caruso, Küng, and Van Avermaet, was working hard to bridge the gap to the leaders.
The now 32-rider breakaway was able to extend its advantage out to almost five minutes after 45km of racing and the gap continued to grow with race leader, Geraint Thomas’ Team Sky teammates controlling the pace behind.
On the day’s first climb, the Côte de Grand Châtaignier, the large front group with Caruso, Küng and Van Avermaet was sitting 6’40” ahead of the peloton and by the time the race reached the Col de la Croix de Berthel the deficit had extended once again and was hovering around the ten-minute mark.
It was on this climb that riders started to attack off the front of the breakaway with Gorka Izaguirre (Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Tem) opening up a narrow advantage over the rest of the leaders before being joined by Tom Jelte Slagter (Team Dimension Data) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) on the descent towards the Col du Pont sans Eau.
The trio was 45 seconds up the road at the summit of the penultimate categorized climb while behind, BMC Racing Team’s three riders continued to work hard in what was left of the breakaway and with the peloton another 14 minutes back, and the gap only continuing to grow, it looked certain that the battle for the stage win would be fought out between the riders in front.
After the KOM, the road continued to rise and as a result the chasing group began to splinter with Küng, who put in a lot of work at the front of the breakaway for the majority of the stage, losing contact as Caruso and Van Avermaet pushed on alongside 17 other riders 1’30” behind Stuyven, who was going solo with 20km to go.
The lone leader hit the bottom of the brutal ascent to the finish line, the Côte de la Croix Neuve, with an advantage of 1’40” but as the steep slopes began to take their toll and the chasers began to attack one another, the gap fell quickly.
In the end, Omar Fraile (Astana Pro Team) passed Stuyven just passed the 2km to go mark and he was then able to hold onto a narrow advantage to take the stage win ahead of Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and Stuyven.
Caruso continued to ride his own race behind Fraile and dug deep in the closing kilometres of the day to secure fifth on the line, and move up to 17th overall, after another strong performance at the front of the race.
Küng and Van Avermaet also looked in good form throughout the stage with the pair finishing 17th and 20th respectively while, the first of the General Classification riders came across the line 18 minutes back.
Unfortunately Patrick Bevin was forced to abandon the Tour de France in the second half of stage 14 today after battling through ongoing gastrointestinal issues.
Quotes From the Finish Line:
“This morning it was in the program that we wanted try and go in the breakaway. In the end, we went really fast in the first 10km of the stage and with crosswinds it was really chaotic. Then, me, Stefan and Greg were able to make it into the big breakaway. It was ‘à bloc’ all day up and down, left and right and then the last climb was really short and steep. So, for me, it was like a TT because I went full gas from the bottom to the finish and in the end, I was fifth but I was hoping for a podium finish maybe.”
“The goal now will be to try again in the next few days. I am feeling really good. I worked hard to be ready for this race and today, I was able to show once again that my condition is good and I will keep trying.”
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was a super hard stage. It was a long day and always up and down. In the end, I knew already that I didn’t have the legs to go for the victory or a nice result. I just rode my tempo because it was a super hard day and it has been a super hard week. I have good legs but they are not so fresh anymore.”
“We tried at the front but I have to say that we knew that Alaphilippe was one of the big favorites for this kind of finish and that it would be really hard for Stuyven on the last climb. If you see how steep it was, I think you could have had even two minutes and it would still have been hard to stay in front. So, we did our job and no more than that as we don’t want to give the victory away.”
“It was pretty hard to make the breakaway. I was already up there in wind and then it was always slightly uphill so it was pretty hard to even get in there in the first place. We were all rolling through so the breakaway was collaborating pretty well. I was feeling quite ok but you also feel that it’s the second week in the Tour, stage 14. So, for sure the race has already taken its toll. I think everybody had tired legs in the front so it was more about who could go really deep. It was more of a classic finish than one for the pure climbers. It’s cool to get in the breakaway at the Tour de France. It’s only my second participation and my third breakaway. You always learn and in every breakaway you learn, so it was a good experience. I hope that one day I can make this experience work and pull a win off.”