In a dramatic finale, the disjointed bunch sprint headed by Alexander Kristoff swept up the day’s breakaway metres from the line, snatching the win from under the nose of Jack Bauer. Despite the conditions and the best efforts of Ag2r, the predicted echelons never materialised and the top general classification riders survived the day unscathed and unchanged.
The great escape
There was a tension in the air that wasn’t down to the oppressive weather when the race reached the outskirts of the ancient town of Nimes today beneath a sky which at times would have looked more suited to Mordor than southern France. When Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) attacked from the gun, they probably didn’t expect to still be away as the race entered its endgame. However, with a handful of kilometres left to race they were still defying the peloton with a strong collaborative effort.
Would they make it? If you made the calculations, the answer had to be no, but your heart said “just maybe”.
For the most part, the riders covered the 222km course without a great deal of drama as they raced towards a cast-iron skyline at a ferocious pace. The high speed, presumably driven by a strong motivation to get the apocalypse over with as quickly as possible, resulted in a few riders being shelled out of the back. One group of 15 riders containing Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Thomas Voeckler trailed in just over 12 minutes down, while Giant-Shimano also lost a number of riders from the bunch, including John Degenkolb.
Torrential rain made for treacherous conditions, and it was both remarkable and a relief to see the peloton manage to safely navigate their way around a succession of bends and roundabouts. The slippery road surface impaired the sprint trains in their pursuit of Bauer and Elmiger, and numerous unsuccessful attacks from the likes of Omega Pharma-Quick-Step trio Tony Martin, Jan Bakelants and Michal Kwiatkowski kept the bunch disjointed with no team able to maintain a stranglehold on the front.
With Bauer and Elmiger still working well together, they managed to hold the bunch at bay into the final kilometre with a teasing lead of just 14 seconds. That’s when it got epic.
What ensued was the sort of finale which has you on your feet, screaming. Teetering on the brink of capture, it wasn’t until the final few hundred metres that the two brave escapees started to think selfish thoughts. That was enough, just enough, to let the rampaging peloton in. Bauer got clear of Elmiger, but didn’t quite have enough left to hold off the onrushing bunch. It was heartbreak for Bauer, ecstasy for Kristoff and frustration yet again for Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), while Giant’s Marcel Kittel finished just behind the fading Bauer in 11th place.
IAM at least had the small consolation of bad weather reveller Heinrich Haussler snatching second place, but Bauer and Elmiger were left wondering what might have been.
VeloVoices rider of the day
He may not have won the stage, but Jack Bauer is my rider of the day. His was almost the perfect race, with a solid effort to get clear, great collaboration and honesty in the break, and the kind of all-out effort which should really have resulted in a famous victory. Instead he was left in tears, having given it everything.
Stage 15 result
1. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) 4:56:43
2. Heinrich Haussler (IAM) same time
3. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) s/t
4. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Bellisol) s/t
5. Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 66:49:37
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.