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Tour de France 2018: Astana make it two in a row on Stage 15

Pete Muir
22 Jul 2018

Magnus Cort Nielsen takes a three-way sprint after a frenetic stage

Team Astana made it two wins in two days as Danish sprinter Magnus Cort Nielsen outgunned his two rivals, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Ion Izagirre Insausti (Bahrain-Merida) in the final stages of Stage 15.

The three managed to escape from a break of eight on the flat final run-in, after a rolling day of attacks and chases.

The GC contenders were content to allow a win from the breakaway today, meaning Sky's Geraint Thomas hangs on to the yellow jersey going into the rest day on Monday.

The story of the stage 

Stage 15 from Millau to Carcassonne was custom made for a breakaway win. Hilly, but not mountainous, the 181.5km route wound its way through the Languedoc Region in the area of southern France between the Alps and the Pyrenees.

The stage included around 3,000m of ascent, with climbs throughout its length, the main one being the category 1 Pic de Nore in the latter part of the race, which lead from its summit into a 41km descent to the finish line.

At the start of the day, there were no fewer than 14 teams without a stage win, and with big days in the mountains to come, many teams will have viewed this stage as the last real chance to stand atop the podium.

As such, when race director Christian Prudhomme waved his flag to start the racing, nearly everyone wanted to be in the break. The attacks came thick and fast, including attempts from the likes of Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).

Large breaks would form quickly, only for Team Sky – protecting the interests of race leaders Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome – to quickly chase them down and bring them back into the fold.

The constant attacks made for an incredibly fast start to the day, with the result that several riders, including FdJ’s Arnaud Demare, were dropped before the race had really got going.

Eventually a break of three managed to get away from the bunch. But one of those riders was Warren Barguil, who was placed second on the mountains points classification, which lead to Team Quick-Step riding hard on the front of the pack to pull him back to protect the polka dot jersey for its rider Alaphilippe.

It was almost an hour and 44km of frenetic racing before a break of 29 riders was eventually established. Of that group, the best placed was Greg Van Avermaet of Team BMC, and it also included green jersey-wearer Peter Sagan.

On the category 2 climb to Col de Sie (10km at 5%), local boy Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie went off on his own, took the mountain points, and soaked up the applause of the provincial fans, before slipping back into the safety of the breakaway group. 

By around 80km to go, the break had pulled out a lead on the peloton of over 7min 30sec. At this point, the riders in the break started attacking each other with a view to whittling the down the numbers at the front.

With sprint points up for grabs, Sagan made the effort to pull back any riders with the impertinence to attack him. All the escaping and subsequent chasing served to increase the pace at the front even more, meaning that by 70km to go, the gap to the peloton was up to almost ten minutes.

Two Frenchmen, Fabien Grellier (Direct Enrgie) and Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), managed to sneak off the front of the race and gain a minute on the rest of the break by the foot of the final climb – the Pic de Nore at 12.3km long and 6.3% average gradient.

Meanwhile, back in the peloton, any ideas of stage wins disappeared and the pace became stately as the main GC contenders saved their energy for the week ahead. This lethargy encouraged Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) to attack from the pack at the beginning of the climb in an attempt to gain time on his GC rivals.

Up front, the two French riders held onto their lead over the first half of the climb, until Bora-Hansgrohe’s Rafal Majka went on the attack and took over the race lead on his own, cresting the summit with 28 seconds over a pack of eight chasers behind. 

Around 12 minutes behind Majka, Dan Martin went over the summit one minute ahead of the main peloton.

On the early steep sections of the descent, Majka managed to maintain his gap of 15-20 seconds, but as the gradient started to level out, that advantage came down quickly, and he was swallowed up by the chasers with 15km to go.

Similarly, at the back of the race, Martin couldn’t outpace the peloton, and he too was overrun by the main pack.

With a flat run-in to the finish line, and the remaining eight riders at the front worked together while simultaneously eyeing each other. Team Astana looked to be in the strongest position, with two classy riders in the form of Michael Valgren and sprinter Magnus Cort Nielsen.

With 7km to go, a trio broke away formed of Nielsen, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Ion Izagirre Insausti (Bahrain-Merida).

The three came to the final kilometre together, but Nielsen proved to be too strong for his rivals and won the sprint with ease to make it two wins in a row for the Kazakhstani squad.

Second place went to Izagirre, followed by Mollema. Another 13 minutes passed before the main pack sauntered over the line, with no major changes in the GC classification.

 

 

 

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