Perfect tactics from Orica-BikeExchange
Michael Matthews took the stage 10 win for his Orica-BikeExchange team after a near perfect display of tactics from the Australian squad. It was Matthews’s first Tour win, and the first of 2016 for his team.
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Matthews was accompanied in the original 14-man escape group by team-mates Daryl Impey and Luke Durbridge. A numerical advantage should mean a much better chance of winning, but as we’ve seen in the past this doesn’t always play out. Think back to Ian Stannard winning Het Nieuwsblad in 2015 after being in a four-man break with three Etixx-QuickStep riders…
Not only did Orica manage to get three riders in the initial break, but all three also made it into the final selection when Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) turned up the pace into the last 25km.
The trio then cleverly organised themselves, with Matthew sticking close to Sagan’s wheel as Luke Durbridge used his time trial prowess to drive a high pace on the day’s final climb of Côte de Saint-Ferréol. It meant that – on the lower slope of the climb at least – no one was able to attack from the lead group.
When Durbridge swung off, Impey put in an attack to drag out Sagan. It was down to Sagan to chase down the moves. Impey attacked again, Sagan chased him down. All the while, Matthews stuck to Sagan’s wheel.
Although Sagan did an amazing job of marking his rivals, it’s possible that the effort reduced his final sprint to the finish line – allowing Matthews to take the victory. Etixx-QuickStep tacticians will be taking note.
Other escapees rue a missed chance
The day’s main 14-rider escape group included an astonishing array of talent, from Grand Tour winners and contenders (Vincenzo Nibali, Mikel Landa, Tom Dumoulin), to Classics stars (Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Matthews) to attacking specialists (Steve Cummings). Four of the riders in the break had already won stages in the 2016 Tour: Van Avermaet, Sagan, Cummings and Dumoulin.
It was remarkable that some of that experience would miss the split in the break caused by Sagan’s acceleration. Nibali (Astana) could be seen caught up in the second group trying – and failing – to pace himself back up to the front group.
Nibali must have ear-marked the stage as its finale was very similar in profile to stage two of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire, which he won. But it was not to be, and the Italian was forced to watch his hopes of a stage win vanish up the road. On Thursday, it’s likely that he’ll be back in action as a super-domestique for team-mate Fabio Aru when the race visits Mont Ventoux.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage 10 highlights
How strong is Peter Sagan?
Although Peter Sagan missed out on the stage victory, he was the rider that most animated the day. Even before the main break assembled, Sagan had attacked several times up the opening category one climb of Port d’Envalira in an attempt to get away. He was eyeing the day’s intermediate sprint to regain the green jersey of points classification leader from Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
He eventually did get away after the Port d’Envalira with 13 others, and took the intermediate sprint and second place at the finish after policing pretty every attack on his own in a display of strength and versatility that proved once again that he is worthy of his status as world champion.
There’s no denying that Sagan fully deserved the combativity award for the day and more importantly, the green jersey. It’s hard to see anyone else wearing green in Paris.
We missed some of the best bits on TV
The positioning of the day’s major mountain pass right near the beginning of the stage was a necessity for logistical reasons, as the race left the mountains of Andorra and headed north-east into France.
It meant that a great deal happened before the television cameras were even turned on: attacks, regrouping, more attacks and riders getting dropped on the slopes of the category one Port d’Envalira. The jostling for position was no doubt encouraged by the thought of the €5,000 Souvenir Henri Desgrange prize on offer for the first rider over the top of the 2016 Tour’s highest peak.
By the time the action arrived on our screens, the escape group had settled down and there was a relative lull in the action until the final 30km. We can’t deny that the finish made up for it.
Mont Ventoux is already looming
Although it’s still two days until they tackle it on stage 12, the Giant of Provence is already casting a long shadow over the riders after the race’s first rest day. Thursday’s stage to Mont Ventoux is the one that the general classification contenders drew a big red circle around at the official route presentation last year.
The long, gruelling climb is a war of attrition as the overall contenders grind out a pace that they hope their rivals cannot match. The top 10 overall is so tightly packed – only 61 seconds separate the riders – that there could be some serious GC casualties on Ventoux. It’s also a stage that everyone else fears: sprinters and domestiques have to get up there to meet the time cut. There’s no easy day on Ventoux.
It is perhaps this thought of Ventoux that saw the overall contenders happy to remain together, accompanying the vast majority of the peloton over stage 10’s climbs. And it will be the same on Wednesday for stage 11, with a relative flat run from Carcassone to Montpellier for an expected bunch sprint finish. Stay safe, and conserve your energy.