The Tour Take | Tour de France Stage 15
1st – Magnus Cort Nielsen
2nd – Jon Izagirre @ s.t
3rd – Bauke Mollema @ s.t
181km from Milau to Carcassonne was on the menu for Stage 15. Racing through the Massif Central mountain region, there wasn’t a whole lot of flat roads, despite just the three categorized climbs. The Category 3 Cote de Luzencon came less than 10 kilometres into the stage, giving potential breaks a springboard. The Category 2 Cote de Sie was placed in the middle of the stage, before the final climb, the Categorie 1 Pic de Nore.
The Pic de Nore is 12.3km at 6.3%, with the first half of the climb averaging 7.5%, and topping out with 42km to go in the stage. It’s a reasonably difficult climb, but there was a long descent until 5km to go in the stage. So while GC riders weren’t likely to attack, it looked a perfect breakaway stage.
Yellow – Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
Green – Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe)
Polka Dot – Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)
White – Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale)
It turned out the entire peloton thought this was a stage for the break too, as an enormous battle took place to make their break. In a frenetic first hour, several groups tried to break away the peloton formed and reformed several times in the crosswinds. Julian Alaphilippe, Warren Barguil and Sylvain Chavanel were all particularly aggressive, but none made the final break.
After nearly an hour of racing, a break of 29 riders established a gap. The break included Silvan Dillier, Sonny Colbrelli, Daryl Impey, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Niki Terpstra, Michael Valgren, Lillian Calmejane, Bauke Mollema, Toms Skujins and others. By the feed zone with 80km to go, they had 10:00 over the peloton who seemed happy to let them fight out the win.
Fabien Grellier and Julian Bernard attacked on the run-in to the Pic de Nore, and built a 2:00 lead by the lower slopes, but that gap quickly disappeared when Rafael Majka set off in pursuit. Climbing out of the saddle, he flew across, with a small group of Valgren, Cort Nielsen, Soler, Mollema Calmejane, Skujins, Izagirre and Pozzovivo behind him
Over the top of the climb, and Majka led alone, with a 35-second gap over Cort Nielsen and Mollema only, but the chasing group came back together as the descent began, and Majka was caught by the bottom with 15km to go.
Behind in the GC group, we saw some fireworks, with Dan Martin attacking around 9km from the top. With Martin in 10th overall, 6:54 back, Sky saw no reason to chase, and the Irishman found a minute quickly. Martin too was caught at the bottom of the descent, despite his valiant attack.
In the lead group of eight, Majka and Calmejane were isolated, but there were two from Trek-Segafredo (Skujins and Mollema), two from Bahrain-Merida (Pozzovivo and Izagirre) and two from Astana (Valgren and Cort Nielsen). The pair of Astana rouleurs were surely the favourites and began to attack the group, with Cort Nielsen initially gapping everyone with 8km to go but brought back soon after.
Next, Izagirre went while taking Cort Nielsen and Mollema with him. With each of those three had a teammate behind and Majka was running on fumes, so Calmejane was forced to chase. But just as he was about to bridge the gap, he inexplicably sat up, seemingly believing that the 50kg Pozzivivo would be capable of, or willing to chase.
The three of Izagirre, Cort Nielsen and Mollema were left to fight for the win; while Izagirre tried a late attack with 1.5km to go, it was destined for a sprint. Cort Nielsen, a reasonable sprinter in any group, was happy with this option and placed himself on the front of the group with a kilometre to go.
Cort Nielsen was never going to be outfoxed, opening the sprint with 250m to go from the front and holding his advantage to the line. It’s Astana’s second win in a row, giving them much to celebrate heading into the second rest day.
The GC group rolled into Carcassonne over 13 minutes later, keeping their power dry for another day.
See you back at the social club,