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Part of a 28-rider break with lots of climbers, Geschke anticipated the favourites and soloed his way to the win on stage 17 of the Tour de France; Contador crashed, van Garderen abandoned and Froome retained yellow

Photo: Sirotti

ANDREW TALANSKY

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CHRIS FROOME

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RIGOBERTO URAN

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SIMON GESCHKE

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22.07.2015 @ 17:48 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) took a hugely surprising victory in the first big stage in the Alps when he completed a fantastic solo ride to the top of the Pra Looup climb. Part of a 28-rider breakaway, he anticipated the final climbs and managed to hold off Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) to take the biggest win of his career. While Tejay van Garderen (BMC) abandoned and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) lost time due to a crash, Chris Froome (Sky) responded to every attack from Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and retained the yellow jersey.

 

Giant-Alpecin have won lots of grand tour stages with their sprinters but apart from strong GC rides from Warren Barguil, they have never been in contention for stage victories in the mountains. Hence, very few had expected them to come out on top in the first stage in the Alps at this year’s Tour de France but a very strong Simon Geschke came away with a surprise win.

 

By riding strongly in breaks in stages 15 and 16, Geschke had already proved that he is in great condition and so he was part of the action when a very big 28-rider escaped after a frantic opening to the stage. Knowing that he was up against some of the best climbers in the world, he anticipated the favourites with a brave move from the distance and climbed strongly over the Col d’Allos and to the finish in Pra Loup to take the biggest win of his career.

 

Geschke made his move 50km to go when he sensed that there was no cooperation in the big group. As a consequence, he quickly got a big gap and could start the Col d’Allos with an advantage of almost two minutes while the peloton had sat up and was more than 11 minutes behind.

 

The many climbers started to attack each other on the climb and it was a five-rider group of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Mathias Frank (IAM) that formed. Pinot was clearly the strongest and quickly distanced the Dutchman and the Brit with an acceleration.

 

Yates managed to rejoin the group just as Pinot went again and this time no one was going to catch. He easily rode away and started to get closer to Geschke while Frank and Talansky combined forces further back.

 

Geschke crested the summit with an advantage of 1.00 over Pinot but as soon as they started the technical descent, he gained time on the French chaser. Things only got worse for Pinot when he slid out in a turn and even though he was quickly back on his bike, he had lost confidence. Hence, he was passed by Talansky and later Rigoberto Uran who had been in the early break, also flew past him. Finally, Frank and Yates also distanced him.

 

At the bottom of the final 6.2km climb, Geschke still had an advantage of more than a minute over Talansky and he was not fading. He constantly lost a little ground to the American but it was clearly that no one was going to catch the German who held the American off by 32 seconds to take the win. Uran was 30 seconds further adrift in third. Pinot made a great comeback to pass Yates and combined forces with Frank for most of the climb until he distanced the Swiss with a late surge to take fourth.

 

While the escapees battled for the stage win, the GC riders had their own fight. It all started on the Col d’Allos when Astana put Jakob Fuglsang on the front. The Dane did a lot of damage to make the group splinter before Michele Scarponi took over.

 

The Italian again proved that he has hit peak condition for the final week when riders like Romain Bardet and Pierre Rolland were distanced by his pace. As they neared the summit, only Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contasdor, Warren Barguil, Geraint Thomas, Robert Gesink, Wout Poels and Samuel Sanchez were still there.

 

Barguil, Sanchez and Poels were dropped but the latter managed to rejoin the group before Nibali launched his expected attack. Froome, Quintana, Valverde and Contador responded immediately while Gesink, Thomas and Poels joined forces further back.

 

Nibali continued to ride on the front until Quintana gave it a go. Froome, Valverde, Nibali and Contador reeled him in and they caught Richie Porte (Sky) who had been in the early break.

 

The Australian paced the group to the top where Nibali tried to attack on the descent. However, Froome was glued to his wheel and never gave an inch while they started to pick up early escapees.

 

One of them was Michael Rogers who collided with his captain Contador who went down hard. He was back on his feet immediately but as his bike was broken, he was 1.50 behind when he finally started to ride again.

 

Meanwhile, Valverde had tried to attack on the descent but Froome, Nibali and Quintana stayed with him. The Spaniard continued to ride on the front as they hit the climb until they picked up teammates Jose Herrada and Gorka Izagirre who both took strong turns to gain time on Contador.

 

Finally, Quintana tried again but Froome, Nibali, Valverde and Tanel Kangert who had been in the break, brought him back. The latter started to ride on the front until Quintana made his next attack inside the final kilometre.

 

This time only Froome could match him and the Brit even tried to counter. The two main contenders stayed together until Quintana accelerated to lead the Brit across the line. Valverde dropped Nibali to reach the finish just seconds later while the Italian was next. Contador lost more than 2 minutes.

 

Earlier in the stage Tejay van Garderen (BMC) had abandoned the race due to illness and so Valverde moves into third overall. Froome retains his 3.10 advantage over Quintana as we go into the second stage in the Alps. After a lumpy start with five smaller climbs, the riders get to the mighty Col du Glando which summits just 39.5km from the finish. In the finale, there’s a long descent and the short Lacets de Montvernier climb whose is top is located just 10km from the flat finale.

 

A tough stage

After a well-deserved rest day, the riders headed into the Alps for stage 17 which brought them over 161km from Digne-les-Bains to a summit finish on the Pra Loup climb. The first part was mainly flat befire the riders tackled two smaller climbs. At the midpoint, they hit the category 2 Col de la Colle Saint-Michel and then it was time for the main challenge, the Category 1 Col d’Allos. The top was located 22km from the finish and was followed by an extremely technical descent that led straight to the bottom of the final 6.2km climb which had an average gradient of 6.5%.

 

It was another hot day in France when the riders gathered for the start in Digne-les-Bains but rain and lower temperatures had been forecasted for the afternoon. There was one non-starter as Laurent Didier (Trek) finally had to succumb to the illness that had plagued him for a couple of days.

 

Sagan on the attack

Everybody knew that it could be a day for a breakaway and so it was no surprise that it got off to a very fast start. Nine riders escaped after 3km of racing and looked like a promising move but they were brought back just 500m later. Already at this point Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) was dropped.

 

Unsurprisingly, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) was the next to take off and he was joined by Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) after 6km of racing. However, they had no luck either and at the 8km mark it was back together.

 

Lots of attacks

The racing calmed down slightly and that allowed Bennett to rejoin the group. Meanwhile, Martin Elmiger (IAM) launched an unsuccessful attack but it was back together at the 12km mark.

 

The high speed made the peloton split and Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) and Bennett were among the riders to get distanced. The attacking created a 31-rider front group with riders like Sagan, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) but at the 22.5km mark that group was brought back too.

 

Astana in control

Jeremy Roy (FDJ) was the next to launch an unsuccessful move while Astana seemed to be particularly keen on controlling the race. After 28km of racing, it was still together and Bennett was dropped again.

 

Europcar took over the pace-setting before Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin) and Dani Navarro (Cofidis) took off. Their action resulted in the creation of a 37-rider front group that included Sagan, Rodriguez and Pinot.

 

Quintana attacks

Ramunas Navarduaskas (Cannondale) was dropped form the lead group and instead Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka), Michele Scarponi (Astana) and Talansky bridged the gap. That’s when Nairo Quintana (Movistar) made a surprise move which forced Sky to react and after 36km of racing it was back together.

 

About 60 riders had been dropped as they headed up the first climb, the group was trimmed down to just 50 riders. Surprisingly, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) had been distanced and when Majka led Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) over the top, the American was one minute behind.

 

Van Garderen loses ground

While Jerome Coppel (IAM) abandoned, Talansky and Kruijswijk attacked at the 43.5km mark. They were quickly joined by Sagan to form a strong trio that sped ahead while van Garderen had now been distanced by 1.20.

 

The front trio was caught and instead a 30-rider group got clear. At this point, Damiano Caruso was the only rider at van Garderen’s side, with the American asking for medical assistance.

 

A big group goes clear

With 105km to go, Jan Bakelants and Pauwels attacked and that move would be the foundations for the early break. Sagan and Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) were the first to join them and later it was a 28-rider group that gathered as they hit the bottom of the second climb.

 

Tanel Kangert (Astana), Mikael Cherel, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r), Thibaut Pinot, Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ), Richie Porte, Nicolas Roche (Sky), Peter Sagan, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Gorka Izagirre, Jonathan Castroviejo, Jose Herrada (Movistar), John Degenkolb, Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Kristijan Durasek, Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), Ryder Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Mathias Frank (IAM) and Daniel Teklehaimanot, Serge Pauwels and Merhawi Kudus (MTN-Qhubeka) made up the group that was allowed to go clear as Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe took control of the peloton. When Pauwels accelerated to take maximum points at the top – followed by Teklehaimanot – the peloton had been distanced by 2.20 while van Garderen was 5 minutes behind in a small group that had even dropped him at one point.

 

Haas abandons

Haas was the next rider to abandon while Rowe and Stannard safely negotiated the descent. This allowed van Garderen to get closer to the peloton and when several riders stopped for a natural break, he rejoined the peloton at the 76km mark.

 

Due to the slower pace, the gap went out to 4.20 before Stannard and Rowe again slightly upped the pace. Moments later, they hit the Col de la Colle Saint-Michel and this was where the action started.

 

Contador attacks

Michael Rogers and Alberto Contador attacked right from the bottom and this forced Movistar on the defensive. Winner Anacona started to chase hard and as a consequence only 17 riders were left as the group exploded to pieces.

 

While Contador left Rogers behind, van Garderen was one of the first riders to get dropped. The American realized that he was getting nowhere and with 70km to go, he abandoned the race.

 

Valverde takes off

When Anacona swung off, Alejandro Valverde attacked a he quickly bridged the gap to Contador. This prompted Leopold König to hit the front and he managed to neutralize the attack.

 

The Czech rode slowly on the front for a little while and this allowed a regrouping to take place. However, the action had brought the gap down to 3.10.

 

Lots of attacks

Tinkoff-Saxo refused to give up so Rogers tried again. Adriano Malori (Movistar) took off in pursuit and Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) was the next to try. The Italian quickly joined the Australian and later the Czech also made the junction.

 

The action got heated when Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Rolland, Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Valverde attacked. This forced König to react and he managed to bring it back together. However, the many attacks had distanced Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) who found himself in a group with lots of sprinters.

 

More KOM points for Pauwels

Sicard tried again and was joined by Brice Feillu (Bretagne). While Bennett left the race, the two Frenchmen managed to join the Rogers group before they got to the top of the climb.

 

In the front group, Herrada, Pauwels and Durasek attacked and it was the Belgian who led the Spaniard and the Croatian over the top while Degenkolb was first from the chase group. The Rogers group was at 2.20 while the peloton had slowed down – with Stannard riding on the front – and was 3.35 behind. Gallopin was at 4.35.

 

A sprint for points

Sagan, Degenkolb and Talansky joined the front trio on the descent but they decided to wait for the chase group as they got back on flat roads. Meanwhile, Stannard safely negotiated the descent.

 

Gallopin benefited from the slower pace to rejoin the peloton while Degenkolb and Sagan enjoyed a moment of fun when they sprinted for the points. However, it was Vaugrenard who crossed the line first, followed by the German and the Slovakian. At this point, the peloton was 5 minutes behind while the chasers were at 1.45.

 

Geschke takes off

Geschke saw an opportunity to attack and he immediately got a gap that was 1.05 when he entered the final 45km. In the peloton, Rowe and Stannard were riding slowly and they had allowed the gap to grow to 6.10.

 

Geschke rode strongly to extend his advantage to 1.30 while Roche, Porte, Hesjedal, Edet, Degenkolb, Quemeneur, Losada had to spend some energy to rejoin the chasers after they had been dropped on the descent. At this point, Teklehaimanot had already used the lack of cooperation to take off in pursuit of the German leader.

 

Lots of attacks

Vaugrenard decided to sacrifice himself for Pinot and as he upped the pace, Degenkolb and Edet were dropped. Moments later, the attacking started when Valls took off. He stayed clear for a little while. Behind, Kruijwijk, Talansky and Yates got clear but it was Kangert, Yates, Kruijswijk, Roche and Frank who caught the Spaniard. Later Pinot also rejoined them but a 15-rider group gathered.

 

Teklehaimanot was brought back before Kruijswihk and Yates attacked. They got an immediate attack while Porte was dropped from the group. Frank, Majka, Teklehaimanot, Frank, Pinot, Valls, Castroviejo, Kudus, Pauwels, Talansky, Herrada, Uran, Bakelants, Kangert and Roche were the only surviving member and they continued to attack each other.

 

Trek take control

Frank and Talansky managed to get clear but the Swiss quickly dropped the American. However, the Cannondale leader was picked up by Pinot who had made a strong surge and they made it back to Frank, Kruijswijk and Yates with 25km to go. At this point they were one minute behind Geschke.

 

Frank was now a threat to Mollema’s GC and so Trek started to chase with Markel Irizar and Gregory Rast. They made the peloton explode as Gallopin was one of the riders to get dropped.

 

Pinot makes his move

Pinot set a brutal pace that was too much for Kruijswijk and Yates. Talansky was also briefly dropped but both he and Frank managed to stay with the Frenchman.

 

Just as Yates had regained contact, Pinot attacked again and this time no one managed to respond to the Frenchman. He easily rode away and started to close the gap to Geschke.

 

In the peloton, Julian Arredondo had taken over for Trek but it was when Fuglsang took over that the real race started.

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