It takes a special kind of rider to find the legs to win a stage after three excruciatingly difficult days in the mountains, but the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, is that kind of rider. Taking the win in a bunch sprint in Valence, the Slovak rider kept his head in a fast finale that showed there were plenty of sprinters still in the race. However, getting that special kind of rider in the right position to win takes a special kind of team, and the BORA-hansgrohe riders worked tirelessly through the day both to reel in the break and to keep Peter in contention in the finale. With a 228 point lead in the points contest, Peter’s win today puts him a step closer to taking the jersey to Paris.
Three days in the mountains finally came to an end, and while on yesterday’s profile there were three Hors Catégorie climbs – the hardest the race has to offer – today’s stage didn’t even have three categorised climbs. The 169.5km route would make its way west out of Bourg d’Oisans, through Grenoble and then down to Valence, ascending and descending a third category and fourth category climb, which wouldn’t trouble any but the most exhausted riders. The flat finale meant the faster riders – those that were left after the mountains – would have a chance to fight it out for the win, but as the legs get more tired and the many mountain kilometres are felt, this is the part of the race where the breakaways start to last until the end.
The Team Tactics
Over the past three days, many teams had lost at least one rider as a result of abandonments or missing the time cuts, but with BORA-hansgrohe still showing a full roster of riders, the team was ready to ride hard. The flat finale suggested a sprint finish, but with so many of the fast men now missing, it would be hard to predict how the day was going to end. From the start it would be important to keep an eye on the break, with Marcus Burghardt, Maciej Bodnar, Lukas Pöstlberger, Gregor Mühlberger and Pawel Poljanski to drive the pace in the peloton both to make the catch and to go for the sprint for Peter, with Daniel Oss to assist the UCI World Champion. After a hard few days that saw his form improve, Rafał Majka would be aiming to take it easy in the bunch and concentrate on his recovery, with some climbing still to come in the final week.
While the riders would relish the opportunity to escape on a flat stage, as opposed to the towering terrain of the past three days, the Yellow Jersey’s team would be keeping a close eye on the riders looking to make the break to prevent any of their rivals taking advantage of the easier profile today. A group of four was eventually able to make their move and built up an advantage on the peloton of a little more than three minutes – the peloton really not giving them a chance today. With the pace being much faster on the flat roads, the kilometres were ticking by quickly, and with the intermediate sprint out of the way, where the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, took third from the bunch, the pace rose sharply. While the break had high hopes at the start, by the time the race hit its last 25km, only one escapee was left, with it only a matter of time until the catch was made, with the Austrian National Champion, Lukas Pöstlberger, working tirelessly to reduce the gap and make the catch. With 5.5km left, it was all back together, and it was here the peloton would find out who was going to step up and go for the sprint with so few of the original field remaining. The roads narrowed dramatically in the streets of Valence and it was hard to find position with some tight turns. An attack from 1km out shook up the bunch but Peter kept his head, reeling in the attack before calmly starting his sprint before lunging for the line to take his third stage win of this year’s Tour de France.
01 P. Sagan 3:45:55
02 A. Kristoff +0:00
03 A. Demare +0:00
04 J. Degenkolb +0:00
05 Y. Lampeart +0:00
From the Finish Line
“This is a fantastic victory. I’m so happy to have won, it was something very good for me, personally. Once again, I have to thank my teammates for their dedication and work. It was a flat stage after the tough mountains, so everybody recovered a little bit in the group. I think they all seemed happy to stay in the bunch and go through a more relaxed stage. My timing in the sprint might now seem perfect but I think I was probably a little bit late. I was a bit behind with 600 meters to go and on the last climb, I tried to bring myself to the front. I then stayed on the wheel of Kristoff and I’m very happy to have beaten them. However, the Tour de France is far from over. We have to make sure we stay out of trouble, we get to Paris healthy and we cross the finish line on the Champs-Elysées.” – Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion
“The size of the break was perfect today, but it looked as if they didn’t really want to be up there and tried to save as much energy as possible. That’s why we started working with Lukas, to push them a little. In the end, the team did a perfect job once again. Burgi made the last 3km really fast. In addition, Gilbert’s late attack didn’t change anything for the lead-out. In the home straight, Peter’s timing was perfect today, and he was also on the covered side as the wind was coming from the right, back side. Summing up, it was a perfect day for BORA-hansgrohe.” – Patxi Vila, Sports Director