Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) took his first Tour de France stage win in six years as he nipped off the front of a breakaway on stage 19 into Salon-de-Provence, while the general classification contenders enjoyed an easy day in the peloton ahead of Saturday’s crucial time trial in Marseille.
The Norwegian was part of a large escape group that went clear of the peloton after 30km and was allowed plenty of leash to finish more than 10 minutes ahead of the peloton.
A flurry of attacks from other riders in the break came to nothing, and in the end Boasson Hagen got lucky when, together with Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) he took the shorter route around a roundabout in the final two kilometres.
Spotting his opportunity, Boasson Hagen accelerated away from Arndt, going solo to the line to win his first Tour stage since taking two wins in Team Sky colours in 2011.
Meanwhile it was Team Sky who led the peloton home more than 12 minutes later, Froome looking relaxed in his yellow jersey having enjoyed an easy day of the saddle ahead of Saturday’s time trial.
How it happened
The opening kilometres of stage 19 of the Tour de France saw aggressive racing on what was the penultimate road stage and the last real chance of a breakaway succeeding before the race finishes on Sunday.
With half of the 22 teams in the race yet to pick up a stage win, there were plenty of attacks in the early stages, but Team Sky were in control of the race, apparently trying to prevent any threateningly-positioned Ag2r La Mondiale riders to get up the road and threaten their place at the top of the team classification.
That meant that it took 30km for a breakaway to establish itself after the race had been stretched out considerably by a high pace over the third category Col Lebraut.
When it finally went clear, the group consisted of 20 riders, including Ag2r La Mondiale’s Jan Bakelants, who was joined by Daniele Bennati (Movistar), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates), Rudy Molard (FDJ), Michael Albasini and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Gianluca Brambilla (Quick-Step Flours), Robert Kiserlovski (Katusha-Alpecin), Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Lilian Calmejane, Sylvain Chavanel and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), and Elie Gesbert, Romain Hardy and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro).
With the team classification decided by a team’s top three riders, Bakelants being Ag2r’s third best-placed rider, and Sky holding a 15-minute lead in that classification, the breakaway was allowed a maximum lead of around eight minutes before Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, and Luke Rowe moved to the front of the peloton to raise the pace and restrict the gap.
The break’s lead remained around eight minutes for much of the stage, with the break working well together until the third category Col du Poitu with 50km remaining.
This was the only obstacle that gave a chance for the other riders in the break to drop Edvald Boasson Hagen, the strongest sprinter in the group, meaning a flurry of attacks. Sicard was the first to attack, followed by Gesbert and Kiserlovski.
That trio made it to the top of the climb with a small advantage, but were soon chased down by Thomas De Gendt, the rest of the breakaway group sat in his wheel.
With 20km remaining another attack came from Jens Keukeleire, who took advantage of a slight rise in the road to jump off the front. The Belgian wasn’t able to get away, but he did manage to split the group in two, nine riders moving clear.
The reduced group then worked well together to distance those who had missed the split, before starting to play around in the final seven kilometres.
Almost every rider in the group launched an attack at one point or another, but the crucial move came when Boasson Hagen and Arndt got lucky by taking the shorter route around a roundabout, finding themselves off the front, before Boasson Hagen went clear himself.
From there the Norwegian rider was not going to be caught, crossing the line with a comfortable margin of victory and a huge grin across his face. Arndt came home five seconds later, with Keukeleire sprinting out of the remains of the break to complete the podium.
Meanwhile all the action at the front meant the peloton had slipped further back, Team Sky setting a gentle pace to bring Froome home safely, the yellow jersey thanking his team-mates as he crossed the line, his mind probably already on Saturday’s 22.5km time trial on the streets of Marseille.
Tour de France 2017, stage 19: Embrun to Salon-de-Provence, 222.5km
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data, in 5-06-09
2. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb, at 5 secs
3. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-Scott, at 17 secs
4. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Movistar
5. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal
6. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie
7. Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo-Oscaro
8. Jan Bakelants (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale, all at same time
9. Michael Albasini (Sui) Orica-Scott, at 19 secs
10. Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Fortuneo – Oscaro, at 1-32
General classification after stage 19
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 83-26-55
2. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 23 secs
3. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac, at 29 secs
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky, at 1-36
5. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, at 1-55
6. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 2-56
7. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 4-46
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates, at 6-52
9. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb, at 8-22
10. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 8-34