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Being the lone survivor from big breakaway, Majka holds off a fast-finishing Nibali to salvage Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France by winning the stage to Risoul; Nibali extends his overall lead as Valverde loses time

Photo: Sirotti

ASTANA QAZAQSTAN TEAM

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JEAN-CHRISTOPHE PÉRAUD

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RAFAL MAJKA

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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VINCENZO NIBALI

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19.07.2014 @ 18:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Less than a week after Alberto Contador’s withdrawal, Rafal Majka salvaged Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France by winning the hardest stage in the Alps. The Pole was the lone survivor of a long-distance breakaway and he managed to hold off a fast-finishing Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who extended his overall lead on a day when Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) showed signs of weakness.

 

6 days ago Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France seemed to be ruined when Alberto Contador crashed out of the race in spectacular manner. Today Rafal Majka salvaged it all by winning the big mountain stage to Risoul that brought the Alpine stages to an end.

 

Yesterday Majka had already proved his excellent condition when he finished second in Chamrousse and today he took a maiden pro victory on the biggest scene of them all. Unlike yesterday, he didn’t save himself to the final battle with the GC riders but decided to attack right from the beginning of the stage.

 

Majka made it into a 17-rider group that managed to build up a 5-minute advantage. With teammate Nicolas Roche at his side and the strong Sky pair of Mikel Nieve and Geraint Thomas to help keeping the pace high, he fought hard over the Col du Lautaret and Col d’Izoard to keep the peloton at bay.

 

Things looked bad for Majka when NetApp-Endura and late Ag2r started to chase hard and by the time he hit the final climb to Risoul he was only 40 seconds ahead. He didn’t respond to the first attacks in his group but when he finally made his move, he proved to be clearly the strongest.

 

While Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) was fading while working in the group of favourites, Majka extended his advantage to more than a minute while the rest of the early break was caught. However, things again started to get dangerous when the GC riders opened the battle.

 

Pierre Rolland and Jean-Christophe Peraud made the first moves but it was Vincenzo Nibali’s attack that made the difference. With Peraud hanging on for dear life, the race leader started to approach the lone Pole.

 

A 5-rider chase group with Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Frank Schleck (Trek) formed a little further back and at one point, they seemed to be getting closer to Nibali and Peraud. As van Garderen got little help, however, they started to drift backwards.

 

Nonetheless, Valverde cracked and the Spaniard lost a lot of ground in the final part of the stage. He fought hard to limit his losses but the Movistar leader was clearly on a bad day.

 

Majka managed to hold off his chasers and took a fantastic solo win, holding off Nibali by 24 seconds whil Peraud crossed the line2 seconds later. Pinot beat Bardet in the sprint for 4th, 50 seconds behind Majka, while an embattled Valverde lost exactly a minute to Nibali and 34 seconds to Pinot and Bardet.

 

The big losers, however, were Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) and Rui Costa (Lampre) who both lost almost 5 minutes to Majka and slipped out of the top 10. Instead, Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) and Leopold König (NetApp) moved into the best 10 positions.

 

Nibali goes into tomorrow’s stage 15 with a solid advantage of 4.37 over Nibali while Bardet is just 13 seconds further adrift. He faces an easier challenge on the long flat run to Nimes which should be one for the sprinters. With the Mistral wind often blowing in the area, however, the GC riders have to stay aware.

 

The hardest stage in the Alps

After yesterday’s big mountain stage, the riders faced an even tougher challenge today when they travelled over 177km from Grenoble to another mountaintop finish in Risoul. The first 82km were almost all uphill and ended at the top of the Col de Lautaret. Then the riders tackled the Col d’Izoard before they descended to the bottom of the 12.6km ascent to the finish.

 

All riders who finished yesterday’s stage within the time limit took the start under beautiful sunny conditions and they prepared themselves for a big battle. The stage looked like a good one for a breakaway and so there were lots of attacks right from the beginning.

 

Nibali bridges across

Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Brice Feillu (Bretagne), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Marcel Wyss (IAM) launched the first attack and they continued to ride hard on the front for a little while. Nicolas Edet, Matteo Montaguti, Majka, Amael Moinard, Steven Kruijswijk and Thomas all joined the action while Rafael Valls abandoned the race after just a few kilometres.

 

Jose Serpa, Jesus Herrada, Michal Kwiatkowski, Christophe Riblon, Danny Pate, Sergio Paulinho and Mikel Nieve all joined the move and when Alejandro Valverde and Tejay van Garderen also bridged across, Nibali kicked into action. The race leader joined the move himself and suddenly a very big group had a decent gap.

 

FDJ, Trek and Ag2r chase hard

FDJ and Trek started to chase had behind and they later got assistance from Ag2r. Meanwhile, the attacking continued in the front group while Nibali was content with following wheels.

 

Paulinho did a lot of work for Majka but they started to lose ground to the peloton that was chasing hard. After 17km of racing, the group split in two and all the GC riders were in the second group that drifted back to the peloton.

 

The break takes off

A 17-rider group remained out front and while Astana put Alessandro Vanotti, Maxim Iglinskiy, Dmitriy Gruzdev and Andriy Grivko on the front to set a steady pace, Thomas, Nieve, Herrada, Rodriguez, Majka, Roche, De Marchi, Sagan, Kruijswijk, Riblon, Albert Timmer, Jose Serpa, Moinard, Cyril Gautier, Edet, Taaramae and Simon Yates started to build a gap. After 32km of racing, they were 3.20 ahead.

 

Unsurprisingly, Sagan won the intermediate sprint but now Astana rode a bit harder and as they hit the bottom of the Col de Lautaret, the gap was 3.00. However, both groups took it pretty easy on the long gradual ascent and when Rodriguez led Majka over the top, the gap to an almost intact peloton was 5.15.

 

NetApp lead the chase

On the descent, NetApp-Endura showed their intentions when Zakkari Dempster, Andreas Schillinger and Tiago Machado started to chase hard. The gap came down to just 2.35 when 71km remained but then the break responded well and kept the gap stable until they hit the Col d’Izoard.

 

Sagan and Timmer were the first to get dropped from the break while Dempster, Schlinnger and Machado were now losing a bit of ground. Several riders fell off the pace in the splintering peloton but halfway up the climb, the gap was 3.00.

 

Ag2r blow the peloton to pieces

When Machado blew up, Astana took control with Vanotti but this caused the pace to go down. NetApp went back to work with Jose Mendes and he brought the gap down to 2.30.

 

Gautier, Riblon, Taaramae, Roche and Edet were the next riders to lose contact with the breakaway in which Thomas did the main work. As Riblon was no longer in the group, Ag2r started to chase hard with Mikael Cherel and his hard work made the peloton explode and when he swung off, only Porte, Valverde, Gadret, Izagirre, Visconti, Rojas, Trofimov, Rogers, Fuglsang, Nibali, Scarponi, Kangert, Mollema, Ten Dam, Peraud, Gastauer, Bardet, Costa, Pinot, Jeannesson, VDB, Gallopin, van Garderen, Stetina, Schär, Velits, Rolland, Schleck, Zubeldia, Köng and Feillu were left.

 

Peraud and Bardet attack

Over the top of the climb, Rodriguez, Nieve, Majka and Herrada got a small gap, with Rodriguez leading Majka across the line, but the escapees found back together on the descent. While Edet rejoined the group, Pinot led the peloton over the top to start the descent in the first position.

 

Peraud and Bardet attacked on the descent and quickly got a solid gap. Fuglsang and Nibali were the first to join them and later Valverde, Mollema, Pinot, Scarponi and Schär also made it across.

 

BMC bring it back together

Schär fell back to assist van Garderen while the Nibali group caught Riblon, Roche, Taaramae and Gautier. Riblon started to work hard for his teammates but with BMC and Lotto chasing hard in the next group, the groups merged with 23km to go.

 

The escapees were now 1.35 ahead and it was now a hard battle between the front group where Thomas did a lot of work, and Riblon who worked hard in the peloton. At the bottom of the final climb, the gap was only 1.05 and as Cherel and later Ben Gastauer rode hard, it went down to just 40 seconds.

 

Majka makes his move

De Marchi was the first to attack from the front group and he was joined by Serpa. Edet set off in pursuit but he was quickly passed by Majka when the Pole made his move.

 

De Marchi dropped Serpa but got company from Majka who quickly left him behind. Meanwhile, Richie Porte, Costa and Van Den Broeck were among the first riders to get dropped from the peloton.

 

Rolland attacks

Rodriguez joined De Marchi but they constantly lost time to Majka who had extended his advantage over the peloton to 1.10. The main group was made up of Gastauer, Bardet, Rolland, Nibali, Valverde, van Garderen, Gadret, Izagirre, Rogers, Mollema, Ten Dam, Peraud, Jeannesson, Pinot, van Garderen, Schleck, Zubeldia, König, with Gastauer setting the pace.

 

With 5km to go, Gastauer swung off which prompted Rolland to make an attack. He was joined by Peraud but when Rolland refused to work, they were brought back by the peloton which was led by Jeannesson.

 

Nibali takes off

With 3km to go, Rolland attacked again but Jeannesson shut it down immediately. Moments later, Nibali made his move and at first no one responded.

 

Impressively, Peraud bridged across and the pair easily passed De Marchi and Rodriguez. Valverde tried to make an attacked but was joined by van Garderen and later also Pinot and Bardet. A little further back, Schleck, Ten Dam, Rolland and König formed the next group.

 

Valverde fades

Van Garderen tried to attack but failed to get clear and instead Schleck bridged the gap. Instead, Valverde started to fade and he fell back to König, Ten Dam and Rolland.

 

Valverde fought hard to limit his losses but could see both Ten Dam and König ride away from him. Meanwhile, Majka continued his incredible performance and held off the chasers to take a solo win.

 

Nibali beat Peraud in the sprint for second while Pinot and Bardet sprinted hard for fourth, with van Garderen and Schleck losing a few seconds in the end. 34 seconds later, an embattled Valverde crossed the line in 10th but saved his 2nd place in the overall standings.

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