It was a big day for BORA-hansgrohe in the break today, with three riders jumping in the escape. The UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, Pawel Poljanski and Rafał Majka made their move early on, with Peter grabbing more points in the intermediate sprint, then going on to protect Rafał before he went on the attack on the day’s final climb. While the Polish rider was reeled in ahead of the line, he was awarded the day’s combativity prize for his bold attack over the top of the Pic de Nore. Finishing safely with the bunch and having already broken the record for the most days in the Green Jersey earlier in the Tour, Peter Sagan climbed onto the podium to accept his 100th Maillot Vert.
There was just one stage remaining before the Tour de France’s second – and final – rest day, and today was another day where the victory could go to anyone. At 181.5km, it wasn’t the longest stage of the Tour, but it did have three categorised climbs to get over, each evenly spaced throughout the day, increasing in difficulty with each ascent. The third category Côte de Luzençon would be a good warm up after 9km, while the second category Col de Sié would get the heart pumping with its 4.9% average gradient over 10.2km, but by the time the riders reached the first category Pic de Nore, only the strongest would still be in contention over its 12.3km with an average gradient of 6.3%. The first half would be the hardest, with ramps hitting more than 9%, while the easier second half would be welcome, it would be hard for the climbers to settle into a rhythm, especially with the slight kick upwards at the end. For riders who had dropped back on the climb, a long descent before a flat finale might still give those less able climbers a chance to catch up to contest the finish.
The Team Tactics
The long descent before the finale meant it was likely some teams would be aiming to get riders in a break before bridging to them later in the day, so with this possible, a big break was expected today. BORA-hansgrohe would try to have Lukas and or Gregor in the break, while Peter might also jump in the break too in order to go for some points at the intermediate sprint at 121.5km. The difficult last climb meant a split was likely, but the long descent would give anyone who was distanced a chance to come back, but the last climb could also be a great springboard for an attack, so the aim would either be to respond to this and close it down – or even to be in it.
It took some time for a break to form today, with Gregor Mühlberger one of many riders trying to make their escape. With every one reeled back in, the descent on the other side of the Côte de Luzençon made it harder for another attack to stick. Finally, a huge group of twenty-nine went off, and there was no way the peloton was going to stop this one. BORA-hansgrohe were well-represented in this move, with UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, Rafał Majka and Pawel Poljanski among their number.
With no-one to threaten the GC standings in the escape, the peloton let this bunch build up an advantage that hit nearly thirteen minutes at its peak. Two riders had attacked off the front of this group, denying Peter the top spot in the intermediate sprint, but pushing to take first from the bunch, the Slovak rider took a further 15 points to add to his total. Having taken the points here,
Peter went on to keep the attacks within the break under control as the breakaway approached the Pic de Nore – the day’s final climb. With 48km to go, and just as the gradient lessened, Rafał attacked to bridge to the solo rider on the front – and passed him. Alone on the front and the long descent ahead of him, the Polish rider pushed on, holding a slim advantage over the chasers. Behind him, the break fell apart on the final climb, just leaving a small group to try and make the catch.
At 14km to go, Rafał was caught by a group of seven, but rather than slide off the back, he fought on and chased the attacks to try and stay in touch, but in the end his efforts on the final climb and his solo ride on the front meant he just didn’t have the energy. While a group of three sprinted for the win, Rafał came home in 8th spot, and was awarded the day’s combativity prize for his strong efforts. Finishing safely with the bunch, Peter Sagan confirmed his unprecedented 100th Maillot Vert.
From the Finish Line
“I feel better now and I wanted to try something today. The beginning of the stage was extremely fast, and after all the attempts failed, Peter took me on his wheel to put me in the break. Our plan was to ride for him, but in the end, he was a bit tired today after the efforts of the last days. When I got the green light, I attacked on the final climb and a bit later took the lead. Unfortunately, it was already late and my gap was too small. There was a long downhill and flat section, so there was no chance for me to make it to the finish. I think that even with an advantage of one more minute it would have been really hard to get the stage today.” – Rafał Majka
“It was good to have my BORA-hansgrohe teammates, Rafał Majka and Pawel Poljanski in the break today. We tried to control the pace a little as the riders were attacking before the final climb, but after that it was just too hard and too long for me to stay on the front. It was great to see Rafał win the combativity prize after his attack today though. There are six stages left, and while I’m doing well in the Green Jersey contest, I might try for some more points.” – Peter Sagan, UCI Wolrd Champion
“We knew that today could be a chance for Peter if he was in the break. Because of the strong headwind after the last downhill we thought that it would be really hard for Rafał to make it to the finish. We tried to set a steady pace on the last climb, but Peter had to pay today for the efforts of the last two days. We then tried with Rafał, but there was too much wind in the finale. Still, it’s good to see that Rafał seems to find his legs again. Also, the other guys did a good job in the beginning when there were attacks all over the place. We had some guys in every bigger break – that was strong. You cannot win every day, today we didn’t but we certainly tried our best.” – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director