Omar Fraile (Astana) was rewarded with breakaway success as he caught lone escapee Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) on the final climb of the Côte de la Croix Neuve.
The battle for the GC came 20 minutes later. Team Sky had to fend of attacks from Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) – but did so successfully. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) arrived at the finish alongside team-mate Chris Froome and the pair’s greatest rival at the minute, Dumoulin.
Dan Martin (UAE Team-Emirates) lost time due to a puncture at the bottom of the ascent, whilst Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo) moved up the ranks to sit in fourth behind Dumoulin.
Omar Fraile announces himself
Of all the riders to have won stages so far at this Tour de France, Omar Fraile (Astana) is probably the least famous.
However, a win of this magnitude has been in the works for several years for the Spaniard, who has improved gradually over time.
After establishing a reputation for being an attacking rider in the hills through winning two successive mountains classifications at the Vuelta between 2015 and 2016 (as well as a handful of combativity prizes), Fraile achieved his breakthrough win at the 2016 Giro d’Italia on a medium mountain stage during the second week.
That result helped earn him a move to Astana for 2018, and the new environment has proved bountiful, with stage wins at both the Tour of the Basque Country and Tour de Romandie achieved – all building up to today’s triumph on what is his first ever appearance at the world’s biggest race.
The circumstances in which he won was typical of the astute breakaway specialist that he has become. Whereas some riders attacked to early and others perhaps left it until too late, Fraile timed his move on the final climb to perfection, and hung on to secure a very impressive victory.
As you were at the top of the GC
From a viewer’s perspective, today was one of those convenient stages of the Tour de France where we are able to watch first the battle for the stage win, and then then the race between the GC riders, separately, due to the huge gap the unthreatening breakaway was given.
It was a tense battle up the Cote de la Croix Neuve, but ultimately it was the usual suspects who emerged as the strongest, with the current podium – Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas (both Sky) and Tom Dumoulin – all finishing together.
For a brief moment it looked as though Dumoulin might have been at risk of losing time when he lost the wheel of the others, but, as we have seen time and time again with the Dutchman, he was merely riding at his own pace, and even had the legs to put in a small attack once he’d bridged back up.
Among the other favourites, Mikel Landa (Movistar) and – despite having his team set the pace at the start of the climb – Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) fell slightly further adrift, losing 29 and fourteen seconds to Thomas respectively, while Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) suffered the misfortune of a puncture on the run-in to the climb.
Primož Roglič reminds everyone that he is a podium contender
Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo) has generally ridden under the radar this Tour, cleverly conserving time without going on the attack and steering his way to fourth overall.
As a result he hasn’t been talked about much, despite the fact that, as a rider who has never before ridden for GC at a Grand Tour, he has arguably been the revelation of the race.
Today was the first time he put his nose to the wind, with an attack on a punchy climb that suited his particular attributes. The move turned out to be a success, with eight seconds gained on the three riders ahead of him on GC, and even more on all of his other rivals.
Now just 48 seconds behind Dumoulin on GC,Roglič must surely now be seriously considered as a threat to the podium – and, who knows, maybe even Thomas’ yellow jersey? Overall victories early this season at the Tours of the Basque Country and Romandie proves he knows how to win stage races, while silver medal at last year’s Worlds suggest the time trial will be an opportunity for him to gain rather than lose time.
As such an unknown quantity in a three-week race, though, it’s difficult to know how his body will respond to the demands of the third week. Depending on this, Roglič could yet be a major player for how this race unfolds.
Near miss for Alaphilippe
Given the steep, relatively short characteristics of the final climb, one rider from the day’s break stood out as the obvious favourite to take victory – Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors).
He also had enviable support from the two teammates who accompanied him the break – powerful rouleur Yves Lampaert, and legendary classics man Philippe Gilbert.
They were put under pressure, however, when the equally powerful rouleur Jasper Stuyven went on a solo break prior to the climb, at one point pulling out a lead of around 1-45 despite the best efforts of Lampaert and Gilbert in the group of chasers.
Ultimately, however, it was not Stuyven who proved to be Alaphilippe’s nemesis, but Fraile. Alaphilippe’s attack on the Cote de la Croix Neuve was as explosive as we’ve come to expect from the Frenchman, and was enough to bring back Stuyven – but not Fraile, who had made his move earlier on the climb, and, beit through better legs or better timing, managed to cause an upset.
Alaphilippe can at least claim the consolation of having extended his lead in the mountains classification to 20 points ahead of Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic). With many climbs still to come, we expect to see the Frenchman animating the race on plenty more occasions from now until Paris.
A huge breakaway contests the stage
With a final week consisting of Pyrenean mountain stages, a couple of likely sprint bunch finishes and a time trial, this weekend represents the last chance for riders who aren’t specialists at climbing, sprinting or against the clock to go for a stage win.
It was no surprise, therefore, to see so many riders attempt to get into the day’s break, and a huge group of over thirty to form.
With so many teams having lost their leaders in recent days, many riders in the break were out trying to make-up for their teammates’ disappointment.
For instance, the trio that broke clear on the second climb of the day included Gorka Izagirre, an erstwhile Bahrain-Merida mountain domestique for the now abandoned Vincenzo Nibali, and Tom Jelte Slagter, one of Mark Cavendish’s Dimension Data colleagues granted more freedom since the Manx Missile missed the time cut three days ago.
Ultimately, it was Astana – a team previously without a stage win, and whose leader Jakob Fuglsang has hovered around a moderate tenth place – who triumphed through Fraile, meaning that whatever happens from here their Tour can be considered a success.
For every other team still unsatisfied with how their Tour’s gone so far, at least there’s another chance for another breakaway win tomorrow.