Dan Martin gets his timing right
Cast your mind back three years to the last time the Tour de France finished in Mûr de Bretagne and you’ll probably remember a quite visibly frustrated Dan Martin kicking himself for reacting too late to the move of stage winner Alexis Vuillermoz on the final climb.
The Irishman, who’s been vying for a Tour stage win since his maiden victory in 2013, didn’t make the same mistake this year on stage six of the race. On the second and final ascent of the steep finishing climb, Martin set off with over a kilometre to go from an elite group of climbers in spite of a headwind.
It looked as though he may have gone too early, particularly as Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) counter-attacked and began to close in on him, but somehow Martin was able to kick again and then produce a final sprint for the line.
It didn’t improve Martin’s standing on GC by much after a fairly lacklustre team time trial on Monday by his UAE Team Emirates squad, but it’s a long overdue and well earned victory for one of the most attacking riders in the peloton.
Mechanical disaster for Dumoulin
“It’s the perfect position,” said Rob Hatch on Eurosport about Tom Dumoulin’s GC position with just 10km to go on stage six. At 13 seconds back in seventh place, Dumoulin has been reassuringly anonymous about his business so far in the Tour, but just a few kilometres later, the Dutchman’s GC hopes had taken an unexpected blow.
A very untimely broken front wheel saw Dumoulin immediately dropped from the bunch with very little hope of getting back on, as Sky drove the pace on the final descent towards Mûr de Bretagne.
It was alarm bells for Sunweb, who immediately drafted Dumoulin with the support car as far as they could, before trying to muster as many riders as they had left. He received a 20 second time penalty for that drafting, just to compound what wasn’t going to be a good day.
It also meant using up the best young rider Søren Kragh Andersen, who was sitting comfortably with the front group but dropped back to try and pace Dumoulin up the final climb.
It was all too late though, and as the front group rampaged towards the line, Dumoulin appeared to be losing more ground, eventually crossing the line 53 seconds down on Martin and 50 seconds down on the leading GC contenders.
It’ll come a big blow for a rider looking to back-up second place in the Giro d’Italia in May, particularly on a stage where he would expect to finish comfortably with the leaders.
Ag2r lose out on two fronts
If Dumoulin’s losses came at the hands of an untimely mechanical, Romain Bardet’s looked more to do with disorganisation. The Frenchman did have a mechanical as well, slightly later than Dumoulin, but was able to work his way back in to the group of favourites before the start of the final climb.
That would have taken a lot of effort out of him, and he was visibly struggling to hang on at the back of lead group, but things weren’t helped when his team-mate Latour attacked to chase Martin.
Clearly Latour wasn’t told about his leader’s struggles, and took off like an Exocet to try and grab the stage win, increasing the pace of the bunch at the same time and ultimately missing out on victory.
Nevertheless, it’s a bad sign for Bardet that he lost 30 seconds up a relatively short final climb to leave him 1-45 back overall. While the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) could afford to lose a handful of seconds thanks to some solid work on the team time trial, Bardet is already looking to make up time with some tricky stages still to navigate before the mountains.
Thomas looks super strong
He’s been able to take bonus seconds in two stages during the first week thanks to some canny positioning, and has quietly moved himself into second overall at three seconds to race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
But today at Mûr de Bretagne, Thomas looked as strong anyone, and carrying better form than Sky’s other leader Froome.
It even looked like he could have followed Dan Martin if he’d really fancied it, but was in danger out dragging the likes of Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Richie Porte (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) back into the mix and decided to sit up.
It’s the kind of form we’ve seen from Thomas before in previous Tours, but it’s often been ruined by a crash or one bad day in the mountains during week three.
The Welshman is looking a rounded and accomplished rider capable of challenging the best at this race, and it’d be great to see him carry that right through to the final stages and a possible podium in Paris.
Van Avermaet stands firm against Quick-Step
Quick-Step were making no illusions about the fact they wanted the yellow jersey back and another stage win after today’s stage.
The Belgian squad rode on the front for more or less than the entire day, even forcing echelons at one point in the crosswinds, as they looked to tee up Julian Alaphilippe for an attack up the final climb and potentially steal yellow from Greg Van Avermaet.
With BMC Racing more focussed on protecting Richie Porte in a long-term aim at taking an overall podium, it was really just up to Van Avermaet to hold on up that last climb if he wanted to protect his yellow jersey.
Alaphilippe looked good in the early parts of the climb, but struggled to make an impact as things really got going towards the final kilometre.
The Frenchman lead in the main group of GC riders just behind Valverde who took the final bonuses on the line, but Van Avermaet was well-placed in the rear of the group to take the same time and preserve his overall lead.
The Belgian has looked classy in protecting his overall placing, never panicking or making mistakes with attacks around him. He’ll surely hold it until through to the rest day on Monday with two sprint stages coming up before the cobbles stage on Sunday. And as a Paris-Roubaix winner, you’d bank on GVA being in the mix for victory that day.