Pantano takes a great win for IAM Cycling
Stage 15 was the kind of hard-fought, exciting battle for the stage win that typically characterise the latter part of the Tour de France, as quality climbers not far enough down on the GC to be given leeway get themselves into the day’s break.
Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) came out on top, through a wide mixture of talents necessary for triumphing on such a stage. He used his tactical nous to not use up too much energy early on, as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) did with early attacks.
His climbing prowess was then on display as he managed to make it to the top of the final ascent of the Grand Colombier in second position, and then his descending skills came to the fore as he closed a gap of around 20 seconds to Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). And finally, he possessed a quick enough kick to then beat Majka in the sprint.
It was easily the biggest win in the Colombian’s career so far, and he becomes the only rider to win their first ever Grand Tour stage at this year’s Tour.
Majka takes control of the polka-dot jersey
Majka may have missed out on the stage win, but on balance his day goes down as a success after he built a substantial lead in the King of the Mountains competition.
First, he managed to take maximum points over the day’s first category one climb, the Col du Berthiand, as well as finishing second over the following three smaller climbs. Then he picked up a crucial 25 and 10 points by being the first rider over each ascent of the Grand Colombier.
The overnight leader in the competition Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) had animated the first climb, but didn’t have the legs to get into the day’s break, and therefore missed out on all the points of offer.
That gives Majka a lead of 37 points over De Gendt, with the likes of Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) and Dumoulin – all of whom were also in the day’s break – not too far behind. There are plenty of points on offer in a seriously mountainous final week, but right now Majka looks a class ahead of all of his competitors.
Sky are indomitable
It’s not as if other teams didn’t try to put Sky under pressure. Astana took control on the first ascent of the Grand Colombier by setting a fierce tempo, and Fabio Aru attacked early on its second ascent, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) grabbing his wheel. But Sky didn’t panic, and inexorably reeled them in.
Towards the top Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) then made a move of his own, and again briefly built up a decent gap. But this time Sky were particularly merciless, cruelly catching him the moment he reached the summit.
On both occasions it was Wout Poels who brought both moves back, setting a tempo up the entire climb that no rider could hope to successfully attack from. The Dutch rider was a little off-colour early on in the race, but appears to building towards a final week peak, just as he did last year when he helped save Froome’s Tour on Alpe d’Huez.
If he keeps riding like this he’ll be invaluable to Froome next week.
The French miss out again
With their bright young hope Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) malfunctioning, other GC hopefuls like Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) failing to get into the top ten, and without a single stage win to their name this late into the race, it’s fair to say the French aren’t having a great Tour.
They came close to putting that last failure right today, with Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) both contesting for the stage win in the day’s break.
Alaphilippe in particular looked strong enough for the win, but suffered a mechanical whilst attacking on the first descent of the Grand Colombier and eventually finished fifth, while Vuillermoz couldn’t quite catch up to the leaders on the run-in to the finish line and had to settle for third.
Italy and Spain are also awaiting their first win at the Tour; with only six stages remaining, there aren’t many opportunities to go around.
Movistar ride passively
With Nairo Quintana in fourth at 2-59 and Valverde fifth at 3-17, the onus really ought to be on Movistar to put Froome under pressure.
But they were content today to follow wheels and defend their positions on GC, rather than attack the riders ahead of them on the leaderboard.
Having two riders within shooting distance of the top of the podium is an ideal situation for a team to work over whoever is defending the yellow jersey, but at the moment neither rider seems to genuinely believe they are capable of winning the overall.
Last year they were similarly conservative until the final week of the race, where attacks from both finally came to fruition. For the sake of the race, let’s hope they’re planning something for the last few Alpine stages.