Movistar’s Rui Costa survived six hours in the saddle, climbing five huge mountains, and a rain-soaked descent to win his second stage in the 100th Tour de France in Stage 19. Costa won Stage 16 with a long solo attack as he did Stage 19. It was the Portuguese rider’s third career Tour stage win.
Costa was part of a huge breakaway which chased two riders, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Jon Izaguirre (Euskaltel Euskadi) for most of the 204.5-km stage. Hesjedal dropped Izaguirre sixty-eight km into the stage, a few km after Europcar’s Pierre Rolland attacked the chase group.
Rolland caught Hesjedal 80 km into the stage, with four big climbs still ahead. Rolland and Hesjedal worked together for 55 km, up and over the Hors Categorie Col de la Madeleine—the Garmin rider even waiting while Rolland replaced a punctured rear tire—but Rolland attacked as soon as the pair reached the next climb.
Hesjedal had been in the lead since the first few kilometers; After two HC climbs, his legs were dead. Rolland pressed on, hoping to win both the stage and the lead in the King of the Mountains classification.
Rain clouds rolled in as the riders approached the last mountain of the day. The clouds burst just as the climbing started, drenching the riders and the road. Rolland was just past the storm, but everyone after him got drenched. The soaking rain wasn’t enough to get the Europcar rider his stage win, though.
Rolland tried hard, but came up short. After a leading over the Cat Two Col de Tamié and Cat One Col de l’Épine, the French rider ran out of gas on the final climb, Cat One Col de la Croix Fry.
As Rolland weakened, Rui Costa made his move. One the final climb, with 20 km left in the stage, the Movistar rider attacked the group of 20 riders still chasing and caught Rolland within a kilometer of climbing. Costa rested a few hundred meters to catch his breath, then attacked again, dropping the Frenchman and riding the remaining 19 kilometers solo.
Despite the roads being wet on the top half of the descent, Costa rode hard, stretching his lead over the chasers. He ended up winning the stage by 48 seconds over RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden.
Pierre Roland ended up 16th, but at least moved to second in the King of the Mountains points, one point behind leader Chris Froome’s 104 and five points ahead of third-placed Mikel Neive of Euskaltel, who is himself only one point ahead of Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. This competition will likely be decided on the last climb of the Tour.
Mountain After Mountian
Stage 19 included five categorized climbs. It started off with a pair of Hors Categorie giants, Col du Glandon and Col de la Madeleine, in the first 85 km of the 204.5 km stage. After a descent and a short flat stretch, the route climbed the Cat Two Col de Tamié, then the Cat One Col de l’Épine and Col de la Croix Fry, ending with a fast 13-km descent to the finish line in Le Grand Bornand.
Because of the final descent, most of the General Classification riders chose not to attack—it would be too easy to burn out one’s legs gaining a small advantage on the climb only to lose it on the descent, and that would leave one vulnerable on Saturday’s summit finish.
The stage started almost immediately with the first ascent; even so the pace was high. Riders expected a breakaway to survive, and everyone wanted to be part of it.
This left the stage open to breakaway riders, a huge herd of them. After a few initial attacks were reabsorbed, a pair of riders, Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) Jon Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi.) This pair was caught by a large group led by and Ryder Hejedal just after the official start of the first climb.
After the catch, Hesjedal and Izaguirre got away, with a pack of about forty riders chasing (Europcar’s Remi Cousin was with the pair briefly, but couldn’t match their pace up the long incline.)
The chase group swelled and shrank as riders bridged across or dropped out, stabilizing finally at 41. After cresting the first climb Hesjedal and Iziguirre had 2:25 on the chase group and six minutes on the peloton.
Between the first two climbs, 58 km into the stage the situation was: Hesjedal and Izaguirre two minutes ahead of five chasers—Cannondale’s Moreno Moser, Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, Ag2R’s Christophe Riblon, Lampre’s Damiano Cunego and Movistar’s Juan Antonio Flecha, which group had a minute on the huge mass of Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale,) Lars Bak and Bart De Clercq (Lotto,) Marcus Burghardt, Cyril Moinard, and Steve Morabito (BMC,) Jan Bakelants,) Laurent Didier, and Andreas Klöden (RadioShack,) Jerôme Cousin (Europcar,) Francesco Gavazzi (Astana,) Alexandre Geniez (FDJ,) Romain Bardet and Blel Kadri (Ag2R,) Jesus Hernandez and Sergio Paulinho (Saxo-Tinkoff,) Mikel Nieve and Romain Sicard (Euskaltel,) Rui Costa, Ruben Plaza, and José Rojas (Movistar,) Jerôme Coppel and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis,) Elia Favilli and José Serpa (Lampre,) Tony Martin (Omega,) Robert Gesink and Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Belkin,) Cam Meyer (Orica GreenEdge,) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil.)
Three sprinters, Mark Cavendish, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Jérôme Pineau, were another five minutes back—they were trying to build up a little cushion because they knew they would suffer on the climbs. The peloton was another minute back, and losing time—none of the GC contenders wanted to burn out on the early climbs.
Both Ryder Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland attacked when they hit the lower slopes of the Col de la Madeleine. Hesjedal, who won the Giro d’Italia in 2012, hadn’t had a good season; for him a solo win looked like redemption. Pierre Rolland was looking to both win the King of the Mountain jersey and to win a second stage for France.
Rolland caught Hesjedal near the top of the climb and crested it ahead, grabbing the KOM points. Behind this pair, the chase was splitting up; some riders forged ahead, others tailed off. About two dozen riders trailed the leading pair onto the day’s third climb, the Cat Two Col de Tamié.
Rolland attacked as soon as the road sloped up, and Hesjedal couldn’t answer. Rolland crested the climb with 1:45 on the chase group.
The Final Climbs
As the race approached the final two Cat One climbs, Saxo-Tinkoff went into action. Saxo, with five riders, wanted to both blunt attacks from Movistar, whose Nairo Quintana was only a few seconds behind Saxo leader Alberto Contador in GC, and also to test Chris Froome and Ritchie Porte of Sky—could Saxo set a pace to crack the race leader, who had struggled the day before?
Up front, Pierre Roland increased his lead on the chase group from 1:15 at the bottom of Col de l’Epine to almost two minutes at the top. This dropped back to just over a minute on the descent, and stayed at a minute as Rolland started the day’s final climb.
The French rider was fatigued though, and showing signs of cramping, massaging his legs when he could. Almost as soon as the final climb started a group attacked out of the chase group: Coppel and Navarro , Bakelants and Klöden, De Clerq, Geniez, Neive, and Rui Costa.
The rain which had been threatening finally came down halfway up the Col de la Croix Fry. Rolland, already suffering, was lucky enough to have gotten past it but it came down in blinding sheets on the chasers. No one slowed: the smaller chase group cut Rolland’s lead in half twenty km from the finish, when Rui Costa made his move.
Costa had no trouble dropping the chase group and catching Rolland. After a minute’s rest, he then dropped Rolland. Riding through the rain, he crested the climb with a over a minute’s gap and began descending, not caring that the roads were soaking wet.
Halfway down the hill, the road dried out, and the chasers began closing in, but Copsta had plenty of speed and plenty of time to enjoy a second solo win.
RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden attacked the chase group and soloed to a second place finish, followed by team mate Jan Bakelants. The pair’s performance earned RadioShack first place in the team classification.
Movistar Makes Its Move
While the breakaway riders were battling for stage honors, the GC contenders were riding an entirely different race. With places two through five within 47 seconds of each other and sixth and seventh separated by only 40 seconds, all the top teams had reasons to ride hard.
Saxo-Tinkoff started the action by accelerating at the head of the peloton 40 km from the finish with the peloton approaching the Col de l’Épine. At the base of the climb Saxo had five riders protecting Contador, while Sky had only three around Froome.
As the pace picked up, the peloton shrank. First Tosato, then Roche, pulled for Saxo while Sky lost yet another rider. At the crest only David Lopez and Ritchie Porte remained of Sky, while Saxo still had four with its leader.
Coming onto the final climb Chris Froome had only Ritchie Porte with him, while Contador still had three. But it was Movistar, not Saxo-Tinkoff, which started the attack.
While Saxo rode a defensive race, keeping the pace high to suppress attacks from the riders right behind Contador in GC, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde was determined to gain a position to reach the top ten.
Valverde was in the top three when a slow wheel change cost him his chance at a podium or even a high finish in Stage 13. With his Tour basically ruined, the Spanish rider worked his team instead of the team working for him. With his team having captured Stage 16 and on its way to another stage win, Valverde decided it was time to ride for himself.
Valverde attacked near the bottom of the final climb, alone at first and then joined by Ag2R’s John Gadret.
Meanwhile Movistar’s default GC contender, Nairo Quintana, marked the quarter of Roman Kreuziger, Alberto Contador, Ritchie Porte, and Chris Froome. This group remained quiescent until stage leader Rui Costa was six km from the finish. Here, with the yellow jersey group still on the climb, Katusha’s Joachim Rodriguez attacked.
Contador and Froome immediately followed, as did Quintana; Ritchie Porte couldn’t hold his team leader’s wheel but kept pushing, trying to catch up. This group soon caught Gadret and Valverde.
As this group passed under the five-km banner, Quintana accelerated away, joined by Valverde. The rest of the yellow jersey group caught up to Quintana, while Ritchie Porte fought his way back on, ready to assist if Chris Froome needed him.
Valverde and Gadret made one last try in the final kilometer; Valverde passed the French rider in the final sprint but both were caught just as they reached the line. The entire yellow-jersey group rolled in 8:40 down on the stage winner, with none of the top seven gaining or losing time.
Quite a lot changed in the next three places: Daniel Navarro of Cofidis moved up to eighth, Omega’s Michal Kwiatkowski dropped to tenth, and Alejandro Valverde advanced from 11th in GC to ninth—his efforts paid off.
Once More Into the Mountains
There is only one more racing stage left in the 100th Tour de France. Stage 20 is very short, only 125 km, but it is filled with small climbs and ends with an Hors Categorie summit finish.
The stage includes six categorized climbs: the first four, a Cat Two and three Threes, should be easy but the 15.9-km Mont Revard might see some action. After the descent from Mont Revard comes a 20-km flat section which will challenge any break to stay away.
Everyone in the top ten will be going all–out on this final climb, the 10.7-km, 8.5 percent ascent to Annecy-Semnoz. Well, everyone with the possible exception of Chris Froome. Froome merely needs to preserve some of his five-minute cushion to take the yellow into Paris on Sunday. The rest have everything to fight for.
Second through fifth are still separated by only 47 seconds; Valverde in ninth is two minutes behind Navarro and will probably have to ride to protect Quintana in third, while Navarro is free to join a breakaway, but on a stage so short, all the teams will be charging hard right from the start—any breakaways will have to ride faster than the fastest to hope to survive.
There will be a battle for tenth place as well—twelve seconds separate Michal Kwaitkowski from Laurens Ten Dam and Andrew Talansky.
On top of that, there will be a battle for King of the Mountains. Chris Froome leads Pierre Roland by a single point, while Mikel Neive is only five behind the Frenchman and Nairo Quintana a point behind that. The first several climbs don’t offer much but the final HC climb is worth fifty points. Look for everyione to be fighting hard for a stage win.