Just when you’re lulled into a ‘ho-hum, this stage isn’t much’ attitude, all hell breaks loose in this year’s Tour de France. Stage 15 was one for the break and Bauke Mollema read the script correctly and came away with his first Tour de France stage win (and Trek-Segafredo’s first in this Tour). In the GC, Chris Froome miraculously withstands an Ag2r onslaught to stay in yellow.
Rider of the Race
It was a day for the break, which turned out to be Bauke Mollema‘s day. Riding in the mighty large break (29 men strong) all day, he took a flyer off the front with just under 30km to go, attacking the group on the descent of the Peyra Taillade, the penultimate climb of the day. He quickly got a gap while those behind him decided a) whether to chase him, b) if so, who would chase him, c) me? not me, you – you chase him.
After what seemed like a verbal paper-scissors-rock showdown, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) decided to chase with Warren Barguil (Sunweb) along for company before they were finally joined by Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal). The chase was on, but it wasn’t very well organised, and Mollema rode like a man possessed until the final 200m when he finally risked looking behind him to find only the armada of cars and motos to see that, yes, he was on his own and he was going to take his first Tour de France stage victory.
I felt so good, I just gave it a try in the last 30 kilometres. I think I never did so long riding alone and in the end, it was close. The Tour de France has always been the most important race for me, it’s always been my dream performing here and I’ve finally won a stage. So I’m incredibly happy.
Gallic balls to the wall
In a stage that looked like I was going to spend a lot of money internet shopping while waiting for the finish, Ag2r made me put down my credit card on the approach to the Col du Peyra Taillade – the final Cat 1 climb of the day. All of a sudden, Bedhead and Co got their brown-bibbed legs moving, took to the front of the yellow jersey group and tore the group to bits on the narrow, twisty roads. It was a team with a plan and the plan started to work with the yellow jersey being distanced.
Yo-yoing back and forth off the back of the Ag2r group, Chris Froome had only one teammate with him – Mikel Nieve, who got a good talking to for not being in the right position – and he kept getting distanced by the French onslaught. Mikel Landa had stayed with the Ag2r group, as had all the other GC contenders, as well as Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana and they were riding with intent. Then Froome’s luck went from bad to worse, as he had a puncture and but for the fact that Michal Kwiatkowski was not far behind him and therefore could give him his wheel, Froome could have found himself in very deep water. As it was, he was 45sec behind the Bardet group when he got back on his bike.
Sergio Henao and Nieve tried to help him up to the GC group but they soon fell by the wayside so Froome had to do all the work himself. And it was an impressive display of guts and ambition that carried him close to the group to find Landa waiting for him to shepherd him back into the bosom of his rivals. This could have – should have – been a race-winning move from Ag2r and why they let him back on is anyone’s guess, but once he was on, he was sticking in there like glue, saving his yellow jersey for another day.
So chapeau to Ag2r for lighting a fire under the GC race and chapeau to Chris Froome for not getting burned.
Shifts and changes
Warren Barguil added to his KOM total by some magnificent riding to take maximum points on both Cat 1 climbs. He keeps the pox on his back with 116pts, his nearest rival being Roglic with 38. Still lots of mountains to come. Michael Matthews added to his points jersey total by taking the full 20pts in the intermediate sprint to narrow the gap to Marcel Kittel to 79pts. As Bling seems to be getting over the climbs way better than the ArgoSunGod, this could be close by the time they reach Paris.
In the GC, a late attack on the small GC group by Dan Martin that was allowed to go away meant that he took back 14sec and leapt over Landa to now sit in 5th place. Nairo Quintana couldn’t keep up with the French pace and lost over 10min on the stage, dropping out of the top 10, which means Louis Meintjes, Alberto Contador and BMC’s Damiano Caruso moved up to 8th, 9th and 10th respectively.
Top 5 stage
1 Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) 4:41:47
2 Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates) +0.19
3 Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) same time
4 Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) s/t
5 Warren Barguil (Sunweb) +0.23
Top 5 GC
1 Chris Froome (Sky) 64:40:21
2 Fabio Aru (Astana) +0:18
3 Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:23
4 Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) +0:29
5 Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) +1:12
All the jerseys
Leader: Chris Froome (Sky)
Points: Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)
KOM: Warren Barguil (Sunweb)
Best Young Rider: Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)
Team Classification: Sky
Most Aggressive Rider: Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)
Header image: Bauke Mollema ©GETTY / AFP / Lionel Bonaventure