Mollema solos to glory
Riding his 11th successive Tour, the 34-year-old is now one of the peloton’s veterans, but as a rider he has changed a lot since he went deep into the 2013 race in the top three overall.
Following several Tours hovering around the lower realms of the top 10, Mollema eventually shifted his priorities away from chasing high GC positions towards going for stage wins, and was rewarded for this new approach with a first-ever Tour stage win in 2017.
In each of his Tour appearances since the Dutchman has been a lively, aggressive rider, and registered top six stage finishes from breakaways, and also established himself as one of the best riders in the world for the hilly Classics, becoming a Monument winner in 2019 by triumphing at Il Lombardia.
The rolling, hilly parcours today was similar to Il Lombardia, so perhaps the other riders in the breakaway group should have been more alarmed when Mollema launched his attack, even if it was a whole 43km from the finish.
But Mollema was so strong today that there might simply have been nothing anyone could have done to stop him.
Martin catapults to second overall
The hilly parcours was not enough to tempt the GC riders into racing this stage, but the easing up in pace did enable one eye-catching change at the top of the general classification as Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) leapt from ninth all the way up to second.
Martin was the highest-placed rider on GC to get into the day’s break, but was not considered enough of a threat to be chased down. While that wasn’t necessarily surprising, it was unusual to see Rigoberto Urán’s EF Education-Nippo and Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma neglect to mount a committed chase once Martin’s advantage grew enough to threaten their podium places.
The question now is whether he can hang on. The nation of France will surely be cheering him on, especially given the lack of any GC contenders to root for in this year’s race up until now, but the truth is that he’ll be up against it. Despite gaining so much time, he wasn’t exactly on a great day, and was dropped by many other riders in the breakaway group.
The chances are therefore that he won’t have the form to hang on once the riders he passed today on GC start racing properly again tomorrow, even though he does now hold a lead of over a minute over Urán in third and Vingegaard in fourth. But knowing the kind of gutsy rider that he is, he won’t give it up without a fight.
Trend of solo winner continues
We’ve now had 13 stages of this year’s Tour de France, and every single stage has been won either by a bunch finish or a solo attacker.
While bunch sprints are of course the norm during the early phase of the Tour, the prevalence of solo winners rather than small groups contesting for stage wins is more unusual.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) set the trend with his spectacular long-range move on stage seven, and five of the seven stages since then have also been taken by solo attackers, courtesy of Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious), Ben O'Connor (Ag2r Citroën), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and now Mollema.
Also notable about this trend is the tendency for the moves to be from long-range; Mollema today attacked over 40km from the finish and held a lead of over a minute during the endgame of the race, making this another day where the stage win was virtually decided considerably before the winner reached the finish line.
While these lone ventures are spectacular to witness, some of the most exciting finishes at the Tour occur when a small group makes it to the finish together, using their wits and tactical nous to get the better of the others. Here’s hoping for one of them sometime soon.
KOM contest kicks off in earnest
A pretty tasty battle for the polka-dot jersey is beginning to develop, as some top climbers signalled their intent to go for the jersey by chasing points over today’s climbs.
Although the race only skirted the foothills of the Pyrenees, a total of five climbs ranked category three and two meant there was still a significant number of points available in the mountains classification.
The wearer of the polka-dot jersey, Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), was not present in the breakaway that eventually formed, leaving Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) to duel. The pair were evenly matched, with Poels winning on the first and third and Woods winning the second, but Woods eventually struck a definitive blow when Poels was dropped on the final climb, clearing the way for him to pick up enough points to take the jersey.
That means Woods now leads Quintana by five points, and Poels by six points. With Quintana sure to attempt to strike back in the Pyrenees, and Mollema also well-positioned enough to be tempted into chasing the jersey at just 13 points behind Woods, the competition is well-poised to produce plenty of excitement during the final phase of the race.
A terrible day for Arkéa-Samsic
When it doesn’t rain it pours, as the saying goes, and Arkéa-Samsic endured a day of a day of alternating crises.
The day began badly when Warren Barguil wasn’t able to start, following a crash sustained yesterday. The Frenchman was supposed to be one of the team’s star riders but has struggled to get up to speed having been affected by other crashes earlier in the race. Any chance of a resurgence in the Pyrenees was put to bed with his withdrawal.
Then Nairo Quintana lost his lead in the mountains classification to Michael Woods. With the Colombian lacking the legs to ride for GC this year, he had made a conscious effort to target mountains points, and his wearing the polka-dot jersey had been the team’s biggest success in an altogether quite underwhelming Tour so far. They’ll no doubt be desperate for him to win it back.
Things could have been even worse had Nacer Bouhanni not managed to make it within the time limit. Things were looking pretty ropey earlier in the stage, when he was reported as being outside the back of the grupetto, and the severe early pace put his continuation in the race under serious doubt. Thankfully the race settled down, though, and he managed to make it, albeit over 10 minutes adrift from the grupetto.
Given his form in the sprints so far, the team will be hopeful he can contest for stage wins in the two remaining flat stages later next week. But if today’s stage is anything to go by then he’ll struggle to survive the Pyrenees.
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