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For the second time in this year’s Tour, Majka takes a big solo win in a major summit finish, emerging as the strongest from a big breakaway; Nibali and Peraud gain time on their rivals while Valverde limits his losses on bad day

Photo: Sirotti










23.07.2014 @ 18:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Rafal Majka secured Tinkoff-Saxo their second stage win in a row when the Pole took his second stage victory of the race in the short, intense queen stage in the Pyrenees. Riding away from his companions in a big breakaway on the final climb, he passed lone leader Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and held off the race favourites to double his tally in the race. Vincenzo Nibali and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) gained time on their podium rivals while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) limited his losses on what could have been a costly day.


Less than two weeks ago, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France was in tatters when Alberto Contador crashes out of the race but since then the team has made a major turnaround. In the Alps, Rafal Majka took a big stage win and yesterday Michael Rogers doubled the tally by winning the first Pyrenean stage.


The team had done nothing to hide that they wanted to win today’s queen stage with Majka and the young Pole fully lived up to expectations. Riding his first day in the polka-dot jersey, he took his second win in the race and made it two in a row for the Russian team.


Alongside his teammate Nicolas Roche, Majka made it into a big group that escaped on the first climb of the day, the Col de Portillon, and then he stayed calm all day while Vasil Kiryienka rode off the front on his own. Using Roche to keep the gap under control, he made his only efforts when he sprinted to second from the group behind Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in all KOM sprints.


Majka made his move on the final climb to the finish in Pla d’Adet when he accelerated hard a few kilometres up the slopes. Making use of Roche at the midpoint of the climb after bridging across to the Irishman who had escaped a little earlier, he continued on his own up to Giovanni Visconti who was now the lone leader of the race.


Majka stayed with the Movistar rider for a little while but with less than 3km to go, he made his final move. Despite his best efforts, Visconti could not keep up with his Polish rival and had to let go of the stage win, rolling across the line in second.


Further down the climb, the battle for the podium positions were on, with Thibaut Pinot launching the first attack. Immediately, Alejandro Valverde fell off the pace as only Vincenzo Nibali, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) could keep up with the French rider and they caught Romain Bardet (Ag2r) who had attacked on the previous descent.


Valverde joined forces with his teammates Jesus Herrada and later Ion Izagirre who both dropped back from the breakaway and tried to limit his losses. Nibali launched another two attack and only Peraud could keep up with the race leader and from there the pair continued to gain ground on their chasers.


Pinot fought hard to limit his losses to Peraud and maximize his gains on Valverde but it was the Spaniard who won the battle. Inside the final 2km, Valverde managed to rejoin the Pinot group and he even launched one of his trademark sprints to gain a few seconds on them in the finale.


Nibali and Peraud passed most of the early escapees and took 3rd and 4th on the stage, meaning that they both gained time on Valverde. The Italian now leads his Spanish rival by 5.26 while Peraud moved into fourth, just 8 seconds off third place which is still occupied by Pinot.


Tomorrow Nibali faces his final test in the mountains when the Pyrenean adventure comes to an end with another short, intense stage. After two small climbs in a mostly flat first half, the riders go up the Col du Tourmalet before it all comes to an end with the legendary climb to Hautacam.


The queen stage

After yesterday’s first battle in the Pyrenees, the Tour de France continued with its queen stage which was a short, intense affair over 124.5km from Saint-Gaudens to a mountaintop finish on the Pla d’Adet climb. After 50 flat kilometres, the final part of the stage was constantly up or down as the riders tackled three category 1 climbs before hitting the final ascent.


The riders took the start under beautiful sunny conditions but two riders didn’t sign in. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) decided to head home to recover from his injuries while Reto Hollenstein (IAM) crashed hard in yesterday’s stage and a pneumothorax prevented him from continuing the race.


An early break

Right from the start the attacking started but surprisingly it was the first move that stuck. Jens Voigt (Trek), Yukiya Arashiro, Cyril Gautier (both Europcar), Martin Elmiger (IAM), Blel Kadri (Ag2r), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) managed to build a gap while Astana was keen to let them go.


However, Katusha went straight to the front and they let the gap grow to 1 minute where Luca Paolini, Gatis Smukulis, Vladimir Isaychev and Simon Spilak kept it stable for most of the flat first part. Spilak quickly blew up and later abandoned the race and his place on the front was taken by Alexander Kristoff.


Points for Sagan

The escapees showed no interest in the intermediate sprint which was won by Kadri while in the peloton, Bryan Coquard and Peter Sagan moved ahead to take 9th and 10th place. Katusha went straight back to work and started to bring the gap down.


At the botoom of the Col du Portillon, the advantage was only 35 seconds and Dmitriy Gruzdev now took over the pace-setting for Astana. The attacking started immediately with Jose Serpa, David Lopez, Luis Angel Mate, Joaquim Rodriguez, Jesus Herrada, Mikael Cherel, Geraint Thomas, Majka, Roche, Alessandro De Marchi, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Yury Trofimov, Amael Moinard, Tiago Machaco, Frank Schleck, Bauke Mollema, Jakob Fuglsang, Ben King, Kristijan Durasek, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Visconti, Tony Gallopin, Peter Velits, Pierre Rolland, Ion Izagirre, Rein Taaramae, Vasil Kiryienka all among the riders to give it a go.


Two big groups are formed

While some fell back, other managed to bridge the gap to the front group while Michele Scarponi set a hard pace in the peloton to avoid the situation getting out of control for Astana.


At one point, De Marchi, Rodriguez, Durasek and Roche got a gap and they were joined by Lopez and Mollema to form a front sextet. Behind, a chase group with Schleck, Kadri, Van Den Broeck, Dumoulin, Gautier, Rolland, Herrada, Fuglsang, Majka, Taaramae, Velits, Iazagirre, Arashiro was formed and they were later joined by Kiriyenka, Visconti and Moinard.


Points for Rodriguez

Rodriguez beat Roche in the sprint for maximum points on the top while Scarponi led the peloton  across the line 1.30 later. On the descent the two front groups merged while Astana slowed down and allowed lots of riders to rejoin the peloton.


Gautier and Roche worked hard in the front group to extend their gap while Maxim Iglinskiy and Andriy Grivko set a steady pace in the peloton. In the valley, Kiryienka decided to anticipate the climb and the Belarusian quickly got a big gap.


Kwiatkowski is dropped

While Michal Kwiatkowski was one of the first riders to get dropped on the Col de Peyresourde, Kiryienka continued to press on and with 50km to go, he was 1.35 ahead. There was no cooperation in the chase group and so Roche decided to attack, bringing along Izagirre, Velits and Rodriguez.


When that group was brought back, Mollema attacked and he was joined by Visconti, Van Den Broeck, Durasek and Roche. Meanwhile, Kadri, Dumoulin and Gautier fell off the pace.


The chase group splits up

The chase group got back together and then Roche and Herrada made an attack. Thye were briefly joined by Van Den Broeck but the Belgian fell off the pace.


While Fuglsang and Taarame was dropped from the Majka group, Arashiro started to ride hard on the front but at the top they were still 1.50 behind Kiryienka. Roche and Herrada were at 1.13. Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez beat Majka in the sprint for fourth.


FDJ up the pace

On the descent, Matthieu Ladagnous hit the peloton to keep Pinot safe. While the hard work by Arashiro paid off. At the bottom of the third climb, they had brought Roche and Herrada back.


FDJ were now riding hard in the peloton that was 5.15 behind. Ladagnous and Cedric Pineau did the early work and then Jeremy Roy took over. As a consequence, the peloton exploded to pieces and the gap started to come down rapidly.


Scarponi sets the pace

Arashiro finally finished his job and left the pace-setting to Roche. While Van Den Broeck was the next to get job, the Irishman rode hard on the front and caught Kiryinka less than 1km from the top, with Rodriguez beating Majka in the sprint for the points.


In the peloton, Roy had blown up and so Scarponi was back on the front for Astana but as they approached the summit, Ben Gastauer upped the pace for Ag2r. Only Bardet, Nibali, Kangert, Peraud, Valverde, van Garderen, Gadret, Ten Dam, van Garderen could keep up with him and later Nieve also bridged the gap.


Bardet attacks on the descent

Pinot hit the front on the descent but was passed by Bardet who launched a brave solo move. They were now just 2.30 behind the front group which Van Den Broeck had again rejoined.


Bardet managed to build a 30-second advantage while Arnold Jeannesson rejoined the Nibali group on the descent. He went straight to work and led the group through the valley.


Rolland attacks

Rolland attacked a few kilometres before the climb and got a gap with Visconti, Moinard and Roche. As soon as they hit the climb, Roche made the first attack but it was Visconti’s subsequent acceleration that worked.


Roche managed to rejoin the Italian but when he tried again, he got clear on his own. Moments later Majka made his first attack and only Rodriguz, Izagirre and Durasek could match him.


Majka makes his move

That group was again caught and then Schleck tried his hand. Majka immediately countered and this time no one could keep up with him. He quickly bridged the gap to Roche, Rolland and Moinard, with the former working hard for his teammate.


Meanwhile, Jeannesson continued to ride hard in the Nibali group that had dropped Gadret and Gastauer. 5km from th top, Pinot attacked and when he failed to get clear, Perauc countered.


Nibali attacks

Only Nibali, Pinot and van Garderen could keep up with him and they quickly bridged the gap to Bardet, Meanwhile, Valverde was with Nieve and Ten Dam and was joined by Herrada who dropped back from the break.


With 5km to go, Nibali made an attack but he failed to get clear. He tried again moments later and this time, only Peraud could stick to his wheel.


Majka drops Visconti

Majka had now dropped the chase group and with 4km to go, he caught Visconti. The pair stayed together for a little while but with 2km to go, he made his move, dropping Visconti.


While Nibali and Peraud continued to ride away from Pinot, Bardet and van Garderen, Valverde was getting closer. When Herada blew up, Izagirre dropped back and inside the final 2km, they made the junction with the Pinot trio.


Up ahead, Majka held off Visconti to take a solo win while Nibali and Peraud passed most of the early attackers to take 3rd and 4th respectively, having even been assisted by De Marchi along the way. An impressive Valverde managed to launch one of his trademark sprints to finish 3rd among the riders who started the final climb in the group of the favourites.



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