Something to smile about for Tinkoff-Saxo
If you were to predict who would be Tinkoff-Saxo‘s first stage winner this Tour, Rafal Majka may have been as high as third on your list.
With Peter Sagan on board, gamblers would have put their money on the Slovakian winning at least one stage on week one. As it was, Sagan could only manage a flurry of top-five finishes while Alberto Contador struggled badly on the Tour’s first mountain stage.
Step forward young Majka. The Pole, who won the King of the Mountains classification in the 2014 Tour, surged off on his own up the Tourmalet and even with a healthy gap between himself and the peloton, it was still doubtful that he’d keep away.
But as he powered over the top of the Tourmalet – looking in no trouble at all – it seemed more and more likely that he’d be able to hold on until the end.
After Contador’s struggles, and the time he lost to Chris Froome on stage 10, Majka’s storming performance was just what the team, and owner Oleg Tinkov, would have wanted.
This was the Tour de France’s first ‘boring’ stage
Any stage that contains the Col du Tourmalet offers great promise, but today we didn’t really see any fireworks on the famous climb.
After Tuesday’s drama on the climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin everyone looked a bit shellshocked and unwilling to test Froome’s strength for a second day running.
Therefore Team Sky were able to control the peloton, see that there wasn’t a threat in the breakaway, and let the guys up the road battle it out for the win.
Also, stage 12 is an absolute brute of a ride, featuring two category one climbs and ending on an hors categorie ascent, so a lot of the riders were probably saving themselves for that.
It’s always good to see a breakaway stay away, but not when the peloton lets them go and gives them an ‘easy’ ride to the finish.
Nibali struggles again
It was another tough day for the reigning champion, but Vincenzo Nibali did have one minor victory.
The Italian champion was dropped again on the climb to Cauterets, losing another 50 seconds to Froome, but having lost the leadership to Jakob Fuglsang he beat the Dane to the line by a whole nine minutes.
While he got one over on team manager Alexander Vinokourov, who said there was something wrong in Nibali’s head, he did himself no favours in his battle with the general classification contenders.
He sits 11th overall but is going nowhere but backwards as the Tour gets progressively harder. Another hellish stage tomorrow could seal his fate once and for all if he doesn’t find his climbing legs.
Who knows who Vino will give the leadership to now, though. Tanel Kangert?
Dan Martin looked impressive
Based on his efforts up the Col d’Aspin, Cannondale-Garmin’s Dan Martin looked to be the man to beat out of the breakaway riders, but the Irishman could only manage another runners-up spot.
He bridged the gap to the breakaway riders on the category one Col d’Aspin and rather than settling into the pack of strong riders he simply powered past them to the top of the climb.
Sitting so far down in the GC (21 minutes back before the stage) it was perhaps a statement of his intent to challenge for the polka dot jersey, and if he can continue in this form on the upcoming mountains he could have his hands on it before long.
Like Tinkoff-Saxo, Cannondale-Garmin are in need of some positive results in this race and with all their riders already well down in the overall standings, Martin could be the man to bring success to the team.
Riders were dropping like flies
Stage three saw six riders abandon the race thanks to their injuries sustained in a massive pile-up, and the same number of riders called it a day on stage 11.
While you can probably carry on with minor injuries on the flatter stages, when it comes to the mountains any niggles can cause havoc.
Ag2r-La Mondiale were the ones to suffer the worst on Wednesday, losing Johan Vansummeren and Ben Gastauer, while Alberto Contador lost his second teammate of the week when Daniele Bennati abandoned after crashing.
Former world champion Rui Costa called it a day along with Bora-Argon 18’s Domenik Nerz, as did Astana’s Rein Taaramae – so he won’t be their new team leader, I guess.
There’s still Thursday’s tough stage to get through before the riders reach the relative safety of the rolling stages between the Pyrenees and the Alps, so don’t be surprised to see a few more riders step off the bike tomorrow.
Tour de France 2015 stage 11 highlights