Matteo Trentin earned Omega Pharma-Quickstep its second stage in a row, sprinting out of the remnants of an 18-rider breakaway to win Stage 14 of the 100th Tour de France.
Trentin, Omega’s second leadout rider (behind Gert Steegmans) was fastest of the escapees in the final few hundred meters, winning the stage by a wheel.
Trentin was part of the first successful breakaway of the 2013 Tour, which started with three riders: Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol,) Jens Voigt (Radioshack-Leopard,) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r) in the first few minutes of racing and swelled to 18 after 35 km.
The peloton chased hard after these 18: Tejay van Garderen and Marcus Burghardt (BMC,) Andrew Talansky and David Millar (Garmin Sharp,) Arthur Vichot (FDJ,) Blel Kadri (AG2R,) Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol,) Jens Voigt and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack Leopard,) Cyril Gautier (Europcar,) Pavel Brutt (Katusha,) Jose Joaquin Rojas and Imanol Erviti (Movistar,) Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step,) Michael Albasini (Orica GreenEdge,) Julien Simon (Sojasun,) Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano,) Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis)—driven by Lampre-Merida and Euskaltel-Euskadi, both which failed to get a rider into the break.
Halfway through the 191-km stage, the peloton sat up, realizing that it was wasting energy chasing, energy better be saved for Sunday’s demanding Mt. Ventoux summit finish. The gap, which had been under a minute, started growing to over seven minutes by the finish.
Of the breakaway riders, only Andrew Talansky was anywhere near to being a threat, 17th at 13:11. The General Classification teams had no cause to work hard with Stage 15 being possibly a decisive stage.
The Peloton Surrenders, the Battle Begins
Once the breakaway was let go, the question became, which of the 18 would get away for a stage win?
The attacks started 25 km from the finish, just after the fifth of seven small categorized climbs in the stage (five Cat 4s and two Cat 3s.) Orica’s Michael Albisini started the action, followed by David Millar and Blel Kadri, then Jan Bakelants who tried several times.
Tejay van Garderen took a shot on the second-to-last climb, and a quartet of Van Garderen, Pavel Brut, Jan Bakelants, and Laurent ten Dam briefly got away but got caught. Albisini made one more try, followed by Marcus Burghardt. All were caught.
Then, just over the peak, with the breakaway riders seeming to relax for a moment, Sojasun’s Julien Simon made a move, and made it work. The French rider, eager to win for his country on the eve of Bastille Day, charged to a 24-second lead before the final climb.
Arthur Vichot and Matteo Trentin all tried to bridge across but failed. Blel Kadri made a strong solo attack but was caught after two kilometers.
Simon was pushing dangerously hard, almost clipping the barriers—and nearly hitting the screaming crowd of French supporters—on several corners. France had yet to win a stage in this year’s Tour, and Simon decided this was the day to risk everything to win one.
The Sojasun rider was aided by the rest of the break, which was too busy attacking itself to mount a coordinated chase. Several times the gap dropped to eight or ten seconds, the stretched back to 16 or 18 as one rider would attack, get chased, then caught, and the group would slow down and wait for the next attack.
Simon still had 24 seconds with ten km to go, and 26 with 8.5; it looked like he might make it. That gap closed to 13 seconds despite Simon’s daredevil descending as Van Garderen and Burghardt started to get serious about chasing.
Simon had 15 seconds with six km to go, eleven seconds at 5.7 km, and then 18 seconds at 4.7 km as infighting once again slowed the rest of the break.
The gap was 14 seconds at 3000 meters, when Lars Bak made a strong attack, followed by Cyril Gautier; it dropped to ten with 2400 meters left to go, as Simon began to tire.
With two km left, Burghardt and Albisini made a huge effort and closed on Simon. The Frenchman survived until the one-kilometer banner, when Burghardt, Albisini, and Simon Geschke caught him.
The rest of the break, still 16 strong, was not far behind; with 500 meters left to race, Jan Bakelants streaked out of the bunch to try to steal the win. He was caught by Albisini, who started the sprint and looked to be strongest, but Trentin was biding his time. With 200 meters left, the Omega rider started charging, coming from six riders back to overtake Albisini at the line and win by a wheel.
Garmin’s Andrew Talansky, not considered much of a sprinter, managed to finish third, which elevated him to twelfth in GC. Simon crossed the line in eleventh place, no win for France on this day. However, Trentin got Italy its first stage win of the 2013 Tour
Long Hard Stage on Sunday
Stage 15, Givors to Mont Ventoux, is long, at 242.5 km, and very, very hard, with five categorized climbs and a summit finish.
The first four climbs are basically warm-ups—three Cat Fours in the first 45 km and a Cat Three at 143 km. The one that matters is the final climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux, a 22-km Hors Categorie ascent averaging a 7.5 percent grade.
Mont Ventoux is not a slow steady grind; the grade rises from three percent to over nine in the first five km, then enters a steep section (!) for the next seven km which averages 9.6 percent with ramps up to 10.6. After a few Ks at about seven percent, the final to kilometers kick up to 9.5 percent again.
This is a climb which could cost a rider a lot of time. With the top five riders within three minutes of Sky’s Chris Froome, it is likely also a climb that will see a lot of attacking.
“A climb like Mont Ventoux at the end of a 240-, 245-km stage, that’s brutal,” opined race leader Chris Froome to Eurosport after Stage 14. “I’m expecting big time gaps on the General Classification after tomorrow night.
“I think a lot of people have left energy on the road these last couple of days, and a lot of people have lost a lot of time. There’s a lot of reasons to attack tomorrow.”
While Froome has showed no weakness so far, his Sky squad has come apart on a couple of stages, and Froome’s most trusted Lieutenant, Ritchie Porte, has lost his legs on both a mountain and a flat stage. Every GC contender will be looking to push Sky and isolate Froome on this climb.
Look for Saxo-Tinkoff and Belkin to drive hard through the middle of this stage, and look for Alberto Contador, Bauke Mollema, and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana to attack on the final climb.