Tactical master Søren Kragh Andersen bags a second stage win
You’d have got long odds on Søren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) winning two stages before the start of this year’s Tour de France, but the young Dane once again made the right move to solo to victory on a rolling stage, repeating his success of six days ago.
It takes a winning combination of strength and tactical astuteness to win on stages like this, that are too hard for the sprinters and not hard enough for the climbers, and Andersen had both in abundance.
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“The group had all the best riders in the world for hilly terrain,” he explained at the finish. “So I was like: how do I beat these guys? The moment came after Trentin attacked really hard. I was also at the limit, but was thinking: If I just get a small gap, then maybe they’ll start looking at each other. And that’s exactly what happened.”
While his strength to ride 16km to the finish away from the chasers was impressive, it was his tactical nous that really stood out. Whereas the others saw the slow-down in pace after Matteo Trentin (CCC Team) had been caught as a chance to catch their breath, he realised it was the ideal chance to go clear, and so defied the pain in his legs to make one decisive effort to go clear, which ultimately set up his stage win.
Andersen has shown promise in the past in both the Classics and time trials, but perhaps being a crafty breakaway rider in Grand Tours in the mould of four-time Tour stage winner Pierrick Fédrigo or Luis León Sánchez might be his real calling.
Sunweb triumph again for a third breakaway win
Has any team had a better Tour de France this year than Sunweb?
Andersen’s victory today puts them level with Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates on three stage wins, but whereas those two teams were always expected to go well, what with the expectations of their respective leaders Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, Sunweb’s success has taken everyone by surprise.
Stage 19 was another demonstration of their versatility and ability to think on their feet. Earlier in the stage, they had worked with Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe at the front of the peloton, presumably for Cees Bol in anticipation of a sprint finish. But when the attacks started to fly up the road and that scenario looked increasingly unlikely, they made sure to get both Andersen and Nikias Arndt into the race-winning selection.
Victory on stage 19 puts them just one-short of their record tally from 2017, when Warren Barguil and Michael Matthews shone in what felt like a zenith for the team. That success had seemed part of a long-gone past, especially when it was announced a few weeks ago that Matthews would be leaving the team at the end of the season. But out of the blue Sunweb look suddenly look rejuvenated and are replicating that success of three years ago. A bright future may lie ahead of them after all.
Sam Bennett edges closer to a deserved points classification victory
It’s never enough to just be the best sprinter at the Tour de France to win the green jersey — you have to be a quality all-rounder too.
Heading into the stage, there were still doubts whether the current holder of the jersey, Sam Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), possessed the requisite skills to hold on to the jersey. Having been dropped by a Bora-Hansgrohe-led peloton on stage fourteen, many predicted that something similar would happen on stage 19’s similarly rolling terrain, and that there was still a chance for Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) could gain enough points to snatch the jersey from him.
On the contrary, the Irishman rose to the occasion, and even managed to extend his lead over the Slovak. Not only did he not get dropped by the peloton, he even managed to go out on the attack again, sticking to Sagan’s wheel like glue when he went up the attacked to the form the day’s race-winning break. Still Sagan tried to shed him, with another attack in the undulating roads prior to the finish, and still Bennett remained, and the two sprinted for ninth and eighth respectively at the finish.
The result is that Bennett now holds a 55-point lead over Sagan lead in the classification. With just 50 points available at the finish line in Paris (and another 20 at the intermediate sprint), only a crash or some other disaster will prevent Bennett from winning a hard-fought and thoroughly well-earned green jersey.
Bora-Hansgrohe try and fail to oust Bennett
All eyes were on Bora-Hansgrohe in the peloton today. Having ridden aggressively all week in an attempt to regain the green jersey from Sam Bennett for Peter Sagan, it was widely expected that they’d attempt to drop him out of contention again today.
With a time trial stage on Saturday, and a Champs Éysées sprint that suits the Irishman on Sunday, this was their last chance to have any hope of retaining the jersey, and the rolling terrain certainly looked favourable to their intentions.
The team did indeed take it upon themselves to lead the peloton, but the pace was nowhere near as furious as stage fourteen, on which occasion they dropped Bennett to make their biggest inroads yet on his lead.
It should not be underestimated just how difficult it was to do what they did that day, and repeating it this stage, with three weeks’ worth of fatigue in their legs, was a huge ask. They even suffered an unexpected blow when one of their main domestiques, Lukas Pöstlberger, had to abandon the race after being stung by a bee in the mouth.
Ultimately, the plan appeared to be down to seeing what Sagan could do by himself, and hoping that he was able to get into a breakaway that Bennett could not. With Bennett able to follow Sagan even on the rolling roads, ultimately there was little either he or his team could do to oust the incumbent.
A lonely day for Rémi Cavagna
Continuing an unusual pattern that has emerged in the flatter stages of this year’s Tour de France, one lone breakaway rider spent most of the day out in front all alone.
Following in the footsteps of Jerôme Cousin (stage three) and Mathieu Ladagnous (stage eleven), Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Rémi Cavagna broke clear at the start of the day, and wasn’t seen by anyone else again for two-and-a-half hours, when a three-man counter-attack of Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers), Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) and Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) caught him 47km from the finish.
Unlike in the former two instances, this time there were other riders who wanted to join the Frenchman. A group of five poursuivants, including Cofidis’s Guillame Martin (trying once more to sneak into the break in an attempt to improve his eleventh place on GC), formed during a frantic opening of the stage.
But despite having strength in numbers, their combined strength was not enough to catch back up to Cavagna, who’s nicknamed ‘The TGV of Clermont-Ferrand’ for his enormous engine.
Perhaps all that energy might have been better preserved ahead of the stage 20 time trial stage, a discipline Cavagna excels in. But he does at least get the combativity award for his efforts.