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Having been part of an 8-rider breakaway, Majka dropped his companions on the Tourmalet and rode away from his rivals to take a solo win in stage 11 of the Tour de France; Froome easily retained the yellow jersey

Photo: Sirotti










15.07.2015 @ 17:28 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Less than two years after his big stage win on the Pla d’Adet, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) took another win in the Pyrenees when he completed a great solo ride in triumphant fashion on stage 11 of the Tour de France. The Pole distanced his 7 companions in an 8-rider breakaway on the Col du Tourmalet and held off Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) to take the victory. No one attacked Chris Froome (Sky) who retained the leader’s jersey.


One year ago the Tour de France seemed to end as a disaster for Tinkoff-Saxo when Alberto Contador crashed out of the race. However, Rafal Majka turned out to be the perfect plan B as he took towo emphatic solo wins in the mountains and won the mountains jersey while his teammate Michael Rogers made it even better by claiming another victory,


It was hard not to get a sense of déjà vu in today’s big stage in the Pyrenees. Yesterday Alberto Contador virtually lost all hopes of overall victory but today the Russian team bounced back in the best possible way when they won the prestigious stage that featured both the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aspin.


Again it was Rafal Majka who came away with the goods. After a brutal start to the race, he managed to join the right breakaway at the 70km mark and while the favourites decided to save energy for tomorrow, they were allowed to contest the stage win. Here Majka turned out to be in a class of his own as he dropped his rivals on the Tourmalet and soloed his way to the finish in Cauterets.


At the bottom of the main climb, Majka, Serge Pauwels, Daniel Martin (Cannondale), Arnaud Demare, Steve Morabito (both FDJ), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Julien Simon (Cofidis) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18) had an advantage of 7 minutes over the peloton which was taking it easy. The bunch  rolled up the lower slopes of the climb with Sky, IAM, Europcar and LottoNL-Jumbo lined out on the front until Astana finally took the initiative.


While Demare was dropped from the front group, the Kazakh team hit the front with Michele Scarponi who made the peloton explode to pieces. Pinot was one of the first to get dropped and later Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) also lost contact as did his teammate Alexis Vuillermoz.


Tanel Kangert took over the pace-setting and had brought the gap down to 5.20 with 48km to go. At this point, Majka upped the pace and after Morabito and Simon had lost contact, he finally got rid of the rest.


Pauwels was his nearest chaser and briefly seemed to be getting closer before Majka started to distance him. Voeckler, Martin and Buchmann stayed together.


In the peloton, the selection continued as Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Bardet were the next main names to lose contact. Leopold König (Sky) also fell off while Warren Barguil (Giant-Alepcin) survived a crisi to make it back to the main riders.


Kangert brought the gap down to 4.30 but as Majka had now upped the pace, the gap started to grow. With 46km to go, it was again 5.00 and at this point only Kangert, Nibali, Fuglsang, Froome, Porte, Roche, Thomas, Contador, Rogers, Quintana, Valverde, van Garderen, Sanchez, Gallopin, Barguil, Adam Yates, Uran, Rolland, Gesink, Ten Dam, Mollema, Castroviejo, Talansky, Frank and Meintjes were the only riders left in the group.


While Rein Taaramae, Ben Gastauer and Rui Costa abandoned, Fuglsang was the next riders to get dropped before Nibali took over from Kangert. He created another selection until only Thomas, Froome, Quintanam van Garderen, Contador, Rolland, Valverde, Gesink, Mollema, Kangert and Gallopin were left.


The gap was down to 4.45 before Nibali swung off and left it to Geraint Thomas to set the pace. He slowed down and this allowed Porte and Sanchez to rejoin the group.


Porte hit the front but he was clearly not riding full gas. Hence, Majka managed to extend his gap to 5.35 as he crested the summit of the climb. Furthermore, Talansky, Ten Dam, Rogers and Frank rejoined the main group.


Pauwels was second across the line, 1.48 behind Majka, while Buchmann and Martin were 2 minutes behind. Voeckler and Simon had been distanced by 4.05 while Morabito was even further back.


As they approached the summit, there was a big fight for position as everybody wanted to be in a good position for the descent. Rolland briefly attacked but Thomas shut it down and while Ten Dam, Porte, Frank, Rogers, Talansky and Sanchez were dropped, it was Thomas who led Froome and Rolland over the top.


Thomas led the group down the descent while the six dropped riders rejoined the group. Valverde briefly tried to attack but as he failed to get clear, it was Porte who took over to keep the gap at 5.35. Meanwhile, Pauwels, Martin and Buchmann had combined forces but they were still 1.45 behind with 25km to go.


Barguil managed to rejoin the peloton as Porte was just safely negotiating the descent. Meanwhile, Pauwels dropped Martin and Buchmann and he was just 1.15 behind with 17km to go. At this point, Castroviejo had rejoined the peloton.


Majka was gradually riding away from the peloton which was 6 minutes behind as he passed the 10km to go banner and hit the bottom of the final climb. At this point, Pauwels was still 1.10 behind while Martin and Buchmann were at 2.00.


Martin made a final big effort in a quest to win the stage and easily dropped Buchmann before flying past a fading Pauwels who was starting to lose ground. Meanwhile, Porte set a steady pace that allowed Jose Herrada (Movistar) and Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) to rejoin the group.


While Majka crested the summit with an advantage of 1.30 over Martin, Mollema attacked from the main group and this forced Gesink to ride defensively in chase behind his compatriot. That spelled the end for Porte, Herrada, van Rensburg, Ten Dam, Barguil, Morabito and Talansky who all got dropped before Nibali also lost contact. Kangert decided to wait for his teammate.


While Majka had plenty of time to celebrate his win and Martin rolled across the line in second, Buchmann passed Pauwels to take third. In the peloton, Gesink didn’t get any help and had no response when Tony Gallopin attacked under the flamme rouge.


Thomas responded to the attack and brought the Frenchman back before Valverde made a move. He rolled across the line 8 seconds behind Mollema while Froome led the main group to the finish 2 seconds later.


That was enough for him to defend his advantage of 2.52 over van Garderen. He faces an even bigger test tomorrow in the hardest stage of the Pyrenees. After a flat start, the riders will tackle three big Pyrenean ascents before they hit the bottom of the climb to Plateau de Beille which is one of the hardest climbs of the race.


Legendary climbs

After yesterday’s first battle in the mountains, more climbing was in store in stage 11 which brought the riders over 188km from Pau to Cauterets. After a relatively flat first part with just three smaller climbs, things got serious in the end when the they first tackled the category 1 Col d’Aspin and then the HC Col du Tourmalet which summited 41km from the finish. The final part was a long descent and a 6.4km category 3 climb which summited just 3.5km from the relatively flat finish.


All riders who finished yesterday’s stage were present when the peloton gathered in Pau on a very hot day. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) got it off to a bad start as he crashed in the neutral zone but he managed to rejoin the peloton before the flag was dropped.


A strong quartet

The stage had breakaway written all over it so it was no surprise to see it get off to a very fast and animated start. First three riders managed to build an advantage of 10 seconds but it was the quartet of Lieuwe Westra (Astana) who initiated the break, Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) and Bob Jungels (Trek) that dominated the first part of the stage after they escaped at the 4.5km mark.


After 7.5km of racing, they had an advantage of 23 seconds but Lampre-Merida had missed the move and started to chase. Cannondale-Garmin quickly took over and managed to bring the gap down to 20 seconds at the 13km mark.


A big battle

The four rouleurs were riding strongly and had increased their advantage to 35 seconds 3km later but now Giant-Alpecin and FDJ were also working with the Cannondale team. Hence, the gap was drown to 30 seconds at the 18.5km mark before the attackers again regained momentum and extended it to 45 seconds as they passed the 25km mark.


Exiting Lourdes, the front quartet were still 40 seconds ahead of the hard-chasing peloton which was led by Cannondale-Garmin but they were now starting to fade. On the lowere slopes of the first climb, they were brought back after 47km of very fast racing.


Sagan takes the green jersey

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) led Dan Martin (Cannondale) over the top of the climb where the peloton split and a group with Rui Costa, Adam Yates, Daniel Teklehaimanot, André Greipel, Kwiatkowski and Eduardo Sepulveda was 30 seconds behind a 60-rider front group. Lotto Soudal managed to bring it back together 1km from the intermediate sprint but it was too late for Greipel to cross the line in first position. Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep) beat Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) while Greipel could only manage 9th and so Sagan took the virtual lead in the points competition.


Bora-Argon 18 leader Dominik Nerz was forced to abandon while the aggressive riding continued and it was Steve Morabito (FDJ) who was first at the top of the second climb. Moments later a 15-rider group with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r) escaped. More riders bridged the gap to make it a 22-rider move but Sky managed to bring it back together at the 70km mark.


The break is formed

Mikael Cherel (Ag2r), Laurens Ten Dam (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) were next to try and were quickly joined by Teklehaimanot, Morabito and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r). However, they were brought back on the third climb of the day where Teklehaimanot took maximum points ahead of Voeckler.


Voeckler joined forces with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) in forming the next break. Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) bridged the gap and later Morabito and Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18) also made it across. The peloton finally seemed to relax a bit and after 80km of racing, the front quintet had extended their advantage to 40 seconds.


Martin and Grivko attack

Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Julien Simon (Cofidis) took off in pursuit and they had to work hard to bridge the gap. After 95km of racing, they made the junction while Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe set a slow pace for Sky in the peloton.


While Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) crashed out of the race, Martin attacked again and he was quickly joined by Andriy Grivko (Astana). They hit the bottom of the Col d’Aspin with a deficit of 3.15 while the peloton was at 6.20. Pinot managed to rejoin the peloton after a puncture.


Martin bridges the gap

Rowe and Stannard set a relatively slow pace but riders still dropped off right from the lower slopes of the climb. They gradually lost ground and with 75km to go, they were 7.10 behind.


Martin quickly distanced Grivko and flew past Demare who was dropped from the front group after a few kilometres of climbing. With 75km to go, he was less than a minute behind the leaders and he made the junction with 73.5km to go.


Bardet suffers

Romain Bardet (Ag2r) was suffering at the back of the peloton and had to dig deep to stay with them while Stannard and Rowe kept the gap stable at 7.15. Meanwhile, the front group sprinted for the points on the top of the climb where Martin easily beat Voeckler, Pauwels, Majka and Simon.


Johan Vansummeren (Ag2r) abandoned the race before Richie Porte (Sky) led the peloton over the top with a deficit of 7.40. Meanwhile, Demare managed to rejoin the front group which was saving energy for the Tourmalet. Rowe and Peter Kennaugh led Sky down the descent, bringing the gap down to 7.00 by the time the escapees hit the Col du Tourmalet where the finale started.



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