Today was to be another typical flat stage: a break, a catch, a bunch sprint finish. It was anything but. For my money, it was the best stage of racing thus far in the 100th Tour.
Something besides mountains and crashes can wreak havoc on a peloton and GC hopefuls. Crosswinds.
Crosswinds – the riders hate them, fans love them. Today’ stage 13 was a perfect example of how crosswinds can shake up the overall classification. Some guys gained time and moved up, some riders lost time and slipped down the GC.
Stage 13 started out predictably enough – the break du jour had about a 3.5 minute lead. The peloton, driven primarily at the front by the Lotto-Belisol, Omega-QuickStep and Argos-Shimano teams. The only difference between today and yesterday at this point was they weren’t allowing the break to get as far ahead.
With about 110k to go, all hell broke loose. Seriously, the race blew apart.
With Omega-QuickStep at the front, you could instantly see the wind change. OQS fell into an echelon formation and started really pushing the pace. Others didn’t react and were caught unaware and then caught out.
Alejandro Valverde had the misfortune to have a flat in no-mans land. His team car couldn’t get to him, instead Valverde and teammates changed the wheel using a tire from one of the service vehicles. Valverde had 4 teammates helping him, going full gas they only got within 12 seconds of the main group – then boom – they fell so far back they chose to sit up and wait for the 2nd group containing Marcel Kittel and a lot of BMC riders and others, it was a large group.
Kittel had several Argo-Shimano teammates and they worked with Valverde’s Movistar team to try and bridge the gap to the front group containing the yellow jersey and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th placed riders in the GC. They didn’t gain any time because once the Belkin guys in the front group got word of the 2nd placed Valverde being dropped they, along with OQS, drove the pace, widening the gap further.
If you’ve watched the Tour very long you’re probably aware there is a code of conduct among riders that says basically, you don’t take advantage of a rider when they’ve had a mechanical or crashed. This rule generally pertains to the higher placed GC guys, maybe the top 5 or the top 3. Valverde, as I mentioned, held 2nd place. Belkin went to the front for one reason, to move their 3rd and 6th placed guys up. Both were in the front group.
Meanwhile the front group quickly reeled in the break. The polka-dot jersey, Pierre Rolland also had a flat and even though he was back on the bike fairly quickly he never made contact with the main group again. Like Movistar, Rolland and teammates ended up in the 2nd group and working with Movistar to try and cut the gap – with absolutely no luck.
About 30k from the finish we had big fireworks in the main group. Alberto Contador and his 4 Saxo-Tinkoff teammates attacked the yellow jersey! They caught Froome completely off-guard, quickly opening up a 10 second gap. Froome tried to follow initially, then looked behind, saw no one else was going to chase and sat up. He didn’t even try to catch on to the 14 rider group, tactically he should have. He may not have been successful, but he looked vulnerable when he didn’t even attempt to go.
Froome is vulnerable now because his team is vulnerable – down to 7 riders. They showed they were vulnerable in Stage 8 and they certainly were today. Teams will attack them even more in the Alps.
Besides Contador and his merry men in the lead group, there were Belkin’s 3rd and 6th placed riders, Cavendish and 2 teammates and Sagan plus a teammate. The grouped worked together very well and managed to grow their gap to just over 1 minute. Behind them in the yellow jersey group, Sky did have a couple of guys go to the front to drive, but to no avail. Oddly, Froome was near the back of this group. You would think after getting attacked and dropped by Contador he would have tried to stay near the front. Maybe he couldn’t – if true, that shows he’s vulnerable too.
The race did end in a bunch sprint – a small bunch – Cavendish had a good jump on Sagan, easily taking the win.
The big news of the day? Contador, Mollema, Kreuziger, Ten Dam all gained 1:09 on Froome. Valverde and Costa lost 9:54 slipping from 2nd and 9th to 16th and 18th respectively. The only good news for Movistar was Quintana held on to 8th place. Those were the big shakeups in the GC, but many gained or lost places in the overall classification.
What an extraordinary day of racing! With the GC contenders smelling blood with Froome and the Sky team, the final week starting Sunday on Mont Ventoux should be fun.
Stage 14: Look for the break to win tomorrow (but who knows), maybe Thomas Voeckler.