Is it a sprint stage? Is it not a sprint stage? No-one seemed to know. Turns out it was, and here's the biggest talking points it produced
All hail Greipel, king of the sprint
There’s no doubt about it now, André Greipel’s (Lotto-Soudal) solidified his place as this Tour’s most dominant sprinter with his three stage wins. Even if Mark Cavendish wins on the Champs-Elysées next Sunday, it’s hard to disagree that the Gorilla has delivered a bit of a masterclass in sprinting so far.
Today it looked like he’d gone a bit early, almost 300m out when he began to turn on the burners, but none of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) or Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) really looked like they were ever going to match him, even with the close finish.
Not even compatriot Degenkolb’s nodding-head, jerky sprint style was able to stop the German claiming his ninth career stage win at the Tour, and perhaps this will be the point where Greipel gets the plaudits he deserves for what is already an impressive palmarès.
He seemed to play down his chances on Sunday morning ahead of the stage, but he stuck it out over some tough climbs on the Tour’s 15th stage to take the last chance for the sprinters before the race hits the Alps.
Cavendish’s sprint stage grupetto
Only on Saturday was Cav’s DS Rolf Aldag talking about the Brit taking his 27th career victory at the Tour on this stage to Valence, but things didn’t seem to go to plan.
A reported illness, diarrhoea don’t you know, seemed to slow the Etixx man on a fast and furious start to the stage, as every rider and his dog tried to make it in to the breakaway on the 18km uphill drag from the start.
From there Cav was dropped into a mini-grupetto of sorts, which very quickly fell to around 12 minutes behind the main peloton as the nine-man break got up the road.
Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who recently gave over half of his skin to a road on the way to Rodez, was there with him, as was right-hand man Mark Renshaw and fellow Manxman Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky). Simon Yates also took a breather at the back after pushing it in the break on stage 15.
It’ll be disappointing for Cav though, on a rare opportunity for him between the suffering of the Pyrenees and the Alps, with confidence pretty high after he beat Greipel to the line on stage seven. He’ll have to wait until Paris now for another shot at glory, as he looks to take a win there after two years of Marcel Kittel dominance.
Sagan misses out…again
But it wasn’t for the want of trying. Sagan rode hard in the opening kilometres to make it into the day’s main break, even though his best bet still would have been to stick it with the bunch and hope for a sprint finish.
Nevertheless, he headed out in the escape again, as he did on Saturday, and rode towards another set of maximum points at the intermediate sprint, giving him an almost unassailable lead in the green jersey competition.
It’s a pretty good consolation for the Slovakian’s desperate lack of stage wins, which now looks like it could span two years unless he can break the trend in Paris and out-sprint the likes of Cav and Greipel.
A fourth place on stage 15 won him some more points towards a fourth consecutive green jersey, but if the pressure was high on him to take stage wins this year, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of scrutiny he’ll be under come the 2016 Tour.
Pinot not giving up
After he was pickpocketed by a rampaging Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) on Saturday’s stage, you could probably forgive Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) for letting his head drop. But he was back in the break again today, on a stage which certainly looked far from his specialty.
It’s been one thing to another for the Frenchman, who came into this Tour with such big hopes on GC. He lost time hand-over-fist in the first week, and even threw a bit of a hissy after a mechanical on the cobbled stage four, but he’s not surrendered.
A stage win would be a deserving consolation for his efforts and all the bad luck, but today probably wasn’t that day. The peloton never really let Pinot and his eight companions out of their sight with a maximum gap of around three minutes. He would have had to make his move on the category two Col du l’Escrinet, but it never looked probable with such a small gap and a lot of downhill before the finish.
The mountains are almost here though and that’s somewhere that Pinot can thrive. He might even try and make it into the break again for Monday’s stage, with a good chance a strong group can go all the way with a category two climb coming just before the finish.
This stage was deceptively hard
Zdenek Stybar didn’t even get time to go to the loo…
Highlights of stage 15 of the 2015 Tour de France