André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) took his third Tour de France stage victory in 2015 to make it nine career wins, as he out-sprinted rivals John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) to the line in Valence on stage 15.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Etixx – Quick-Step), who had targeted this stage for a win, was dropped early on in the stage on the opening category three climb and was unable to feature in the race as he trailed home in a group around 12 minutes back.
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It had looked to be a difficult stage for the sprinters, with a tough opening 18km or so that were all uphill, before a category two climb with around 60km remaining looked to put a bunch gallop on the flat finish in severe doubt.
But all the fast men bar Cavendish had managed to hang on over the Col de l’Escrinet, but it was Tejay van Garderen’s BMC that were looking to work for Greg van Avermaet as they pulled the peloton into town on the 183km route from Mende.
Kristoff’s Katusha team took over the front as they were forced to chase down an attack from Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) with just over 3km to go, pulling the stage six winner back within the final 1.5km, as Greipel, Degenkolb and Sagan latched onto the wheels of the Russian team.
It was the former German champion Greipel though who continued to show his sprinting dominance in this Tour, launching his attack 300m out from the finish after a right hand turn, with his compatriot Degenkolb furiously trying to match his speed, but was unable to overcome him as Greipel took the stage by half-a-bike length.
Earlier in the day a nine-man break including Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Mick Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx – Quick-Step), Matteo Trentin (Etixx – Quick-Step), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), had managed to get away on the opening climb.
Sagan achieved his first goal of the day, taking full points at the intermediate sprint to extend his green jersey lead, before he and most of the group were pulled back with 40km to go. Trentin and Hesjedal held out with a small gap but were caught with 29km remaining as the sprinters’ teams looked determined to bring it all back together.
There was no real action in the GC, as the overall contenders all finished safely in the main bunch. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) had a small dig off the front of the l’Escrinet climb, but joined the peloton as they crested the category two climb and began the long descent towards Valence.
Monday sees the race head towards Gap, the gateway to the Alps, with another good chance for the break to stay away with two category two climbs coming shortly before the finish on the 201km stage 16; the last before the Tour’s second rest day.
Tour de France 2015, stage 15: Mende – Valence, 183km
1. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal, in 3-56-35
2. John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
4. Peter Sagan (Slo) Tinkoff-Saxo
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) MTN-Qhubeka
6. Ramunas Navardauskas (Blr) Cannondale-Garmin
7. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
8. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
9. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida
10. Florian Vachon (Fra) Bretagne-Seche, all same time
Overall classification after stage 15
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 59-58-54
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 3-10
3. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 3-32
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 4-02
5.Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 4-23
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 4-54
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 6-23
8.Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 8-17
9. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal at 8-23
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing at 8-53