Stage 19: Albertville > Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc

“One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”      – Greg LeMond

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Stage 19 of the Tour de France was undoubtedly the most hectic stage of the race so far.  Torrential rain, crashes and abandonments wreaked havoc on the 146km route as Romain Bardet (AG2R- who I mentioned was long due a stage win just two days ago) saved French hearts from breaking and avoided spoiling the 17 year run without 0 French stage wins.

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Despite the slight changes in the route, it was essentially the same stage Froome had won in the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2015 yet unfortunately the result was not the same this year. A late crash and another broken bike meant he lost 39 seconds to Bardet yet still retains his 4 minute advantage in GC.

177 riders started today’s stage with 20 riders breaking away from the peloton with a 3m55 gap. They included Pantano (IAM), De Gendt (Lotto), Majka (Tinkoff), Martin (Etixx) and Matthews (OBE) who took the intermediate sprint at 25km. Back in the peloton, Tiralongo, Rosa and Nibali (AST) moved to the front, distancing slightly while Movistar riders tried to shout them back. They were then joined up the road by two more Astana riders, a Cofidis and a Katusha rider. Astana weren’t always so keen to work together during the stage, as around 42km in Grivko and Rosa argued at the front. Rosa motioned for him to slow down, while Grivko put his hand on Rosa’s shoulder telling him patronisingly to pretty much mind his own business and leave him alone. Rosa then moved back while shouting at Grivko, I imagine the mood in the team bus and hotel tonight won’t be too great.

In the breakaway, De Gendt beat Majka over the summit of Forclz De Montmin to claim the most points for the King of the Mountains jersey, yet Majka was ahead by 70 points. He also beat Majka on the Col de la Forclaz de Queige, yet with only a two point gap in 1st and 2nd points for the summit it didn’t impact the standings.

Before the rain started there was a crash in the bunch, as Tom Dumoulin touched a wheel of his teammate and hit the floor, holding his wrist. He was the worst hurt of the pair. Adam Yates also needed a new bike (he wasn’t involved in the crash) and was then forced to use more energy he needed at the end of the stage to get back towards the front. Rodriquez punctured in the neutral zone at the beginning and then suffered another mechanical. Dumoulin was then revealed to have abandoned in tears, unfortunate for a man who was having such a great Tour with 2 stage wins and was aiming for Olympic success in 3 weeks.

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Pierre Rolland and Rui Costa attacked off the front of the breakaway, yet disaster struck as he Rolland crashed on the descent of the Montee de Bisanne in the rain. He slid across the road, into mud and almost hit a stationary motorbike. Road rash on his hip and a torn jersey, he got back onto his bike and carried on. Yet the rain turned torrential as riders struggled to stay upright on their bikes while descending at high speed. Two FDJ riders also crashed on the descent, with Richie Porte stuck behind them and losing time.

The build up to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc didn’t fare riders well for crashes either. Navarro was forced to abandon after he crashed with Bennett (LottoNL) and Sepulveda (EF-VC). Yellow jersey wearer Froome had slipped on a white line in the road, sliding and fortunately only losing some skin while Nibali fell behind him. As Geraint Thomas came round the corner and saw Froome on the ground, he instantly gave him his bike as Wout Poels helped him to the finish. Teammate of the day? Definitely Wout Poels. Bauke Mollema also momentarily went off-road cycling as he missed the corner. The Trek rider couldn’t keep up with the pace and seemed to be going backwards with every pedal stroke, losing time with every kilometre.

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Excitement for the French however, as Romain Bardet closed in on Rui Costa. Since the beginning of today’s stage there had been no French, Spanish or Italian stage winner at this year’s Tour. In fact when he did catch him, he sailed past him, heading for the finish line solo. He asked the nearest motorbike rider for his nearest rival – 29 seconds behind.

Meanwhile back in the yellow jersey group, Adam Yates was hanging on for his podium position and white jersey. Dan Martin attacked from the front and distanced the group while Quintana and Porte tried to attack – yet Wout Poels had it covered. They later attacked with 2km to go, yet Wout reeled them in again. Again, teammate of the day. (Or teammate of the Tour?)

In front of them, Romain Bardet took the stage win and moved up to 2nd in GC in front of a deafening reception from the public, giving France its first victory of the Tour. He saluted them as he crossed over the line and Rodriquez finished 22 seconds later. Froome lost only a matter of seconds to Quintana, Valverde and Aru while the biggest time loss in GC was seen by Bauke Mollema. A day he would most likely be looking forward to forget, he crossed the line 4m25 down. His podium place of 2nd unfortunately taken from him as he fell to 10th place, 7m42 behind Froome. Today’s stage would also have been hard for Dumoulin and Navarro, abandoning after crashes. Yates lost 9 seconds to Quintana yet received a 10 second penalty for a ‘hang sling’, moving him from 3rd to 4th place and off the virtual podium.

Tomorrow’s stage is reflective of todays in terms of mountain categories. Stage 19 saw a Category 2 climb, two Category 1’s and a HC, exactly the same for tomorrow. Expect a last-ditch fierce fight for 2nd and 3rd podium places between Bardet, Quintana, Yates and Porte while Poels and Geraint continue to help Froome towards the end, keeping the yellow jersey safe. Majka will presumably try for mountain points despite not needing them, yet will consolidate his hold on the polka dot jersey further. Aru tried too little to late today for the stage win, and with no Italian win so far, could he try and break for it tomorrow, or did he burn his team today? There has also been no Spanish win, so keep an eye out for Rodriquez or even Valverde, if Valverde is not helping leader Quintana.

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