What a Queen stage! 196km in la belle France, three category one climbs before the fearsome Aubisque, a massive 41-rider break, and it all came down to three riders for the win. Strongest of the mismatched trio was Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) who distanced Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) and Katusha’s Egor Silin in the last metres to take his first ever Grand Tour win. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (SKY) attacked each other all the way up the last ascent but neither gave an inch or a second – the Colombian still holds red by a margin of 54secs. Best plan of the day award goes to Orica-BikeExchange, who end with Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates in third and fourth place overall.
Rider of the race
I KNOW you were all probably be expecting me to choose #LePetit Elissonde non? To tell the truth I nearly did, and of course his exploits will be praised below. However, I just can’t begrudge Jumbo Bee Robert Gesink this. The 30-year-old Dutchman has fought his way back from so many injuries and tragedies in his career. Sixth at the Tour de France in 2015, a dreadful crash at the Tour de Suisse took him out of this year’s edition. His comeback trail started at the Tour de L’Ain, just days before the Vuelta kicked off. After narrowly missing out to Quintana at La Covadonga, he was determined to try for glory again. Initially dropped on the descent of the Col de Marie-Blanque he produced a strong ride on the Aubisque to get back to the six leaders and once there he was simply the strongest in the end.
I kept fighting and I gave everything. My legs were so cramped that I could not sit anymore, but I had enough. I’m happy. This is my first stage win in a grand tour after years of racing. It’s perfect timing too because I wasn’t really having a good season. Now I feel that I’m truly recovered from my crash in Switzerland.
The Jumbo Bees certainly had a great Queen stage with Kiwi George Bennett riding to a superb fourth on the stage and moving up to 12th overall.
Le rêve de Kenny Elissonde
Winner on the mythical Angliru in 2013, word from the diminutive climber this morning was that he felt 100% ready and dreamed of adding the Aubisque. After an injury blighted early season, attacks on stages that didn’t quite suit his style showed that the sensations were good. Kenny made the break of the day and was never far from the action. Forcing the pace on the descent of the Marie-Blanque that pulled six riders free, and attacking on the Aubisque to whittle the group to four. All while taking enough mountain points along the way to ensure a trip to the podium for the very swish Polka dot jersey.
When Gesink rode across to join the quartet and attacked taking Jan Bakelants (Ag2r-LaMondiale) with him, I thought Kenny was cooked. Luckily I was watching a French feed and suddenly this incredible cacophony of noise erupted and there he was – in full flow and full grimace riding his way back. It was quite the sight in those last few metres: a giant Gesink verses a petit Elissonde. Kenny cracked first, but rode back to claim second on the day. As he said afterwards, “I have no regrets. In the last metres, I was third, it was perfect but Gesink was more powerful. He was stronger.” First on l’Angliru and second on l’Aubisque, there’s not many riders can write that on their palmarès… Keep dreaming big Kenny!
Incidentally, a class act from Team Katusha for handing Kenny a bidon when he needed one on the final climb #chapeau
Orica had a cunning plan
We love it when a plan comes together and especially one dreamed up by the Orica gang. They put Simon Gerrans, Magnus Cort (only Dane in the peloton) and stage winner Jens Keukeleire into the break of the day, and all were very visible at the front. After they crested the Col de Soudet (second climb of the day), the trio really pushed the pace on the descent and into the valley below. It was so fierce that the break was stretched beyond breaking point and riders were shelled like peas. At one point it was Cort versus the chasing Team Sky led peloton, and the Dane was winning! What were they up to? We weren’t left to wonder why for long.
Back in the peloton Jack Haig attacked on the Marie-Blanque and was soon joined by Simon Yates. Haig took Yates far enough that he could bridge to the trio up front who then set him free at the base of the Aubisque. From there he fairly flew up the ascent to finish in 5th place, only 39secs behind the winner. With Valverde having a nightmare day (he’s tumbled from 3rd to 19th), and Alberto Contador losing time, this was enough to jump Yates from 7th to 4th overall. Esteban Chaves dropped both Froome and Quintana on the run to the line and is now on third step of the GC podium: 2:01mins behind Don Nairo and 1:01 from the second step. The icing on the cake is Simon Gerrans taking the day’s most combative rider. Nicely played OBE, or as Sam Bewley says…
1 Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) 5:43:24
2 Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) +0:07
3 Egor Silin (Katusha) +0.09
4 George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0.31
5 Simon Yates (ORICA-BikeExchange) +0.39
1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 58:41:40
2 Chris Froome(SKY) +0:54
3 Esteban Chaves (ORICA-BikeExchange) +2:01
4 Simon Yates (ORICA-BikeExchange) +2:17
5 Leopold Konig (SKY) +2:38
Points leader: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
King of the Mountains leader: Kenny Elissonde (FDJ)
Combined classification leader: Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Team classification leader: BMC
Stage’s Most Combative: Simon Gerrans (ORICA-BikeExchange)
For full stage review: Cycling News
Header image: Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images