Rafal Majka avenged his defeat by Vincenzo Nibali yesterday by taking a fine win on the summit finish of Risoul. He finished off a fine attacking day in the breakaway by soloing away and holding off a late attack by the Shark of Messina. Nibali remained in yellow, taking more time on his nearest rivals.
A grand day out
There could not have been a dry eye on the finishing line (and certainly not in the Tinkoff-Saxo team cars) as Rafal Majka rode over the finishing line at Risoul. Mouth open, face a grimace of pain, jersey unzipped and flapping in the breeze, there was no doubt this had been a long, hard day in the saddle.
The 24-year-old Polish rider made the breakaway of the day (more on that later) along with teammate Nicolas Roche. For the rest of the day he rode with a combination of great tactical awareness and sheer courage. Second over both the cat 1 Col de Lautaret and the hors categorie Col d’Izoard, he waited until the time gap to chasing group came down to under a minute before he launched his ferocious attack on the final ascent.
With 8km to go he struck out, catching and passing Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida), and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). With 4km to go he had built up a minute on the chasers, but then Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked. I can only imagine how his heart dropped when he heard that news through his earpiece. Was victory going to be snatched from his grasp as it had been yesterday?
The final kilometres were tense as the Shark stalked his prey up the barren slopes. Majka slipped under the flamme rouge with 30 seconds to spare, and soloed over the line .What a moment to take his first professional win, and only the second by a Polish rider at the Tour
Post-stage he said, “I am always second and third, and today I knew I needed to attack, because if I didn’t attack they would only beat me in the final. I needed to fight and I won.”
My personal favourite moment came three minutes later when teammate Michael Rogers came over the line, a huge smile on his face and tapping the handlebars in triumph. I am sure Mr Tinkov will forgive the unzipped jersey on this occasion.
The breakaway rules
From almost the minute the flag was dropped by Christian Prudhomme, the peloton went into attack mode. They do this most days, but today there were so many riders with things to gain by being in the break.
First we had Rodriguez. He rode aggressively and was absolutely determined to make the breakaway succeed. Why? Simple. He had lost the King of the Mountains jersey to Nibali (Astana) yesterday and he wanted it back on his shoulders for himself and Katusha. Today he took maximum points on the first two climbs, enough to make up the 17-point deficit to Nibali. He will wear the the polka dots tomorrow by right.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was an interesting member of the break, and maybe not one you would expect to see on a big mountain stage. But he picked up maximum points at the intermediate sprint for the green jersey competition, and stayed with the leading riders until the ascent of the Col d’Izoard.
Sagan had teammate De Marchi with him – always a rider looking for a breakaway, and wearing the red dossard denoting the most combative rider on yesterday’s stage. Today saw the Italian driving the breakaway, putting in solo attacks on the final ascent, a feat which ensured he will sport the red dossard again tomorrow.
Allez, allez allez
It has been a pleasure to watch the French riders come through on this Tour. Today we saw some great aggressive riding from third-placed Romain Bardet and his Ag2r La Mondiale team. With a minute and a half separating second from sixth, Romain looked to gain time on all his nearest competitors before the time trial on stage 20.
The team managed to distance Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) on the descent from the Col d’Izoard, although they did rejoin before the final climb. Undeterred they carried on driving the group up the final ascent, making life difficult for many riders, including Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who lost 34 seconds to Bardet.
Jean-Christophe Peraud was the only rider able to hang on to Nibali when he attacked, and came home third. Bardet and Pinot sprinted the last few metres, with Pinot taking fourth place by a smidgeon. This leaves three Frenchmen in the top six on GC, and Bardet only 13 seconds behind Valverde in second. Bring on the Pyrenees, the French are waiting!
VeloVoices rider of the day
I was spoilt for choice today, as so many riders showed courage in all sorts of ways. But I have chosen 21-year-old British rider Simon Yates from Orica-GreenEDGE. Drafted into the team as a late replacement for Daryl Impey, he is always to be seen on the front when the road goes up,
Yet again he made the breakaway today, and his ride ensured he moved up 36 places on GC to lie 80th overall – a ride which made him the biggest climber of the day in terms of improving GC position. (Thanks to William Fotheringham for that fact).
Stage 14 result
1. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) 5:08:27
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:25
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (FDJ) +0:26
4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +0:50
5. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:50
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 61:52:54
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +4:37
3. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +4:50
4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +5:06
5. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +5:49
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +6:08
7. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +8:33
8. Leopold Konig (Netapp-Endura) +9:32
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) +10:01
10. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +10:48
Points leader: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
King of the Mountains leader: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
Best young rider: Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Team classification: Ag2r La Mondiale.