Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) chose the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France to claim his first ever win in the race. Behind him, there was a battle royale for the podium places
On the longest stage of the Tour, taking the riders into the Pyrenees and into a headwind, none of the riders battling for the general classification were too keen to put in more effort than they needed to. There were tougher days ahead so there was no need to expend any more energy than was absolutely necessary.
Having said that, there were plenty of teams and riders looking to win a stage and the opening kilometres of the race were as frantic as anything we’ve seen so far. In fact, there were breaks, chases, reformations and attacks in the opening 60km.
In the end, after around 70km, a break of no fewer than 21 riders was given its ‘billet de sortie’ as they say in France, a ticket to ride (away) from the peloton led by Astana.
The roll call of honour of riders who had worked hard to made it into the break of the day then: Bernhard Eisel and Vasil Kiriyenka (Sky), Jon Izagirre (Movistar), Michael Rogers (Tinkoff), Jan Bakelants and Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS), Samuel Dumoulin and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin), José Serpa (Lampre), Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Tony Gallopin (Lotto), Greg van Avermaet (BMC), Cyril Gautier, Kévin Reza and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Michael Albasini and Jens Keukeleire (Orica), Roger Kluge (IAM), Anthony Delaplace and Florian Vachon (Bretagne) made it into the break of the day.
For the first time in the Tour, a breakaway had been let off the leash. Over the climbs of the Pamiers, Portet d’Aspet and Ares, the gap grew and held steady and, with 40km to go, the 21-rider break still had 12-39 of a lead. Although the hors categorie 11.7km Port de Bales stood between the break and the bunch, one of them was going to win. There would be an acceleration from the Astana-led bunch, but after the 1,750 metre summit of the Bales, it was downhill to the line in Bagneres de Luchon.
No sooner had the break hit the lower slopes of the Bales than the attacks began and solidarity began to crumble. Roy (FDJ.fr) had a go, Kluge was first out the back and Reza chased Roy down for Voeckler. It was a revealing little skirmish. Kiryienka went to the front – force of habit perhaps – and sent half a dozen riders out the back with a steady, brutal pace. At the same time, Astana and Movistar picked up the pace at the head of the peloton lower down the climb, starting a cruel shake-out of the hitherto slumbering bunch.
At the front, Michael Rogers put in an effort, then Voeckler attacked, countered by Serpa, but all this meant was that there were six riders left with 27km – though Kiryienka made it back up to the front (as Porte was dropped from the peloton) and promptly attacked with 5km to the summit. Voeckler had another go, again chased down by Serpa, with Lampre’s Colombian clearly reckoning that Gurning Tommy was the man to follow.
The multiple attacks and accelerations left Voeckler and his team mate Gautier in the company of Rogers and Serpa and the Europcar duo made a real effort to break clear before the summit with Gautier exhibiting disturbing signs of Voeckler-esque gurning. With 2.5km to the top of the climb, there were three left, as Gautier was dropped and Rogers kept the tempo ticking over, mindful, perhaps, of the rapid Van Avermaet not too far off the back.
Behind in the dozen riders that constituted all that was left of the peloton, Movistar’s (and Benat Intxausti in particular) fierce tempo managed to isolate Nibali but, more importantly for Valverde’s podium aspirations, put van Garderen out the back. Inspired or emboldened, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) attacked, drawing Nibali, Valverde and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) with him, but dropping his French rival for the maillot blanc of best young rider, Romain Bardet. The Pinot-Valverde group was joined by John Gadret of Movistar and Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ.fr).
In the scramble over the summit, Pinot was putting pressure on everyone, with Valverde struggling and Nibali giving the young Frenchman a head start on the descent to the line. A stage that had been a slog and a slow war of attrition, had exploded on the final climb in spectacular fashion.
With nine kilometres to go, the leading trio had been re-joined by Kiryienka and Gautier, but on the fast descent, with four kilometres to the line, Rogers rode clear from Gautier, who decided to wait for reinforcements to try to catch the Australian.
It was the wrong move as those chasing Rogers eyed each other nervously while the two-time world time trial champion forged on to win his first ever Tour stage.
Eight minutes and thirty-four seconds later, the yellow jersey group was led over the line by Jeremy Roy, but the headline news of the day was that both Bardet (who lost 1-50) and van Garderen (who lost 4-26) cracked, setting back their podium ambitions. For today at least, because there were still two more hard days in the Pyrenees to go. Nibali, looking as solid as ever in yellow. The other podium places? Still wide open!
Tour de France 2014, stage 16: Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 237.5km
1. Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo in 6-07-10
2. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar at 9 secs
3. Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Sky
4. Jose Serpa (Col) Lampre-Merida
5. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar at same time
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team at 13 secs
7. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 36 secs
8. Matteo Montaguti (Ita) Ag2r at 50 secs
9. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin-Sharp at 2-11
10. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol at same time
37. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at 12-08
39. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 12-08
Overall classification after stage 16
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 73-05-19
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 4-37
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 5-06
4. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r at 6-08
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 6-40
6. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at 9-25
7. Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura at 9-32
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 11-12
9. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 11-28
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at 11-33
16. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 23-54