Rafal Majka, a late call-up to the Tinkoff-Saxo Tour team, scored the first Grand Tour win of his career with a splendidly managed solo effort at the summit of the Alpine resort of Risoul at the end of stage 14 of the 2014 Tour de France.
The young Pole, sixth overall in this year’s Giro, had been part of the day’s break and managed his effort to perfection, holding off the inevitable surge from yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who finished second after once again putting time into his closest rivals. OK Vincenzo, we get it, you’re going to win the Tour…
Over five hours earlier, there must have been a few worried riders in the opening minutes of the stage as attack after attack launched off the front as the race as it left Grenoble. Poor Rafael Valls of Lampre climbed off inside five kilometres of the stage and Andrei Greipel (Lotto) was dropped as the peloton split into four parts. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r) were in the wrong end of the split and wasted precious energy in a frenzied chase.
Finally, after 16 kilometres, some semblance of order settled on the bunch, when a break of 17 went clear with the blessing and relief of the bunch. Mikel Nieve and Geraint Thomas (Sky), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Rafal Majka and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff), Peter Sagan and Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Steven Kruijswijk (Belkin), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Albert Timmer (Giant), José Serpa (Lampre), Amaël Moinard (BMC), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Nicolas Edet and Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) were the men with the day pass from the peloton today.
41.5km were covered in the first hour which would be decent on a flat stage, but since the parcours basically started to climb as soon as the race rolled away from Grenoble, it gives an indication of how savage the start was.
The Col du Lautaret was the first of three climbs on this last day in the Alps, cruised up at a modest pace, with the break pegged at around five minutes, but NetApp-Endura took up the pace making as the Izoard approached and the break only had 2-21 at the foot of the climb which, at 2,360m, is the highest point of the race. Buoyed up by the performance of team leader Leo Konig the previous day, the Pro-Conti level German team was setting the pace in the Tour to impressive effect – though the riders getting shelled out the back were probably less impressed by their collective efforts.
As had been the case on the Lautaret, the man in the mountains jersey Joaquim Rodriguez was in the hunt for points, but since there was a big cash prize (5,000 Euros) for the Souvenir Henri Desgrange which denotes the high point of the Tour, ‘Purito’ had to work a little harder for it. In the closing metres, Rafal Majka ‘gave’ him it, though you have to wonder what big boss Oleg Tinkov thought of Majka’s sporting generosity.
At the summit of the Izoard, the disintegrating break had 2-50 over the Astana-led peloton. There was a 30km descent before the final showdown on the climb to Risoul, during which Romain Bardet attacked, briefly causing a stir as the leaders sought to scrabble back up to the front. Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto) and, ironically, Konig were momentarily left behind.
By the village of Gullestre, effectively the start of the final 12km climb to the line at Risoul, the 11-man break only had 1-04 and the leading group (no longer a peloton) containing all the favourites. Or rather it briefly contained the favourites as Richie Porte (Sky) and world champion Rui Costa (Lampre) were dropped very quickly.
As the break disintegrated in a flurry of attacks and the leaders started to close in, Majka accelerated past Rodriguez and De Marchi, though few gave the Pole a hope of hanging on to his 40-second advantage with the leaders on the charge behind. At best it looked like he was only postponing the inevitable capture.
Astonishingly, not only did Majka resist the return of Bardet, Pinot, van Garderen and Nibali for a few more kilometres, but he won the stage ahead of – who else – an utterly untouchable Nibali who had 37-year-old Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) for company.
However, if Nibali gained yet more time, then the man second overall, Valverde, lost some to his young rivals, with both Pinot, Bardet and van Garderen gaining around 30 seconds on the Spaniard. Nibali is looking more secure than ever in yellow, but the podium places are wide open. In that respect, the Tour isn’t over.
Tour de France 2014, stage 14: Grenoble to Risoul, 177km
1. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo at 24 secs
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r at 26 secs
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 50 secs
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 50 secs
6. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at 54 secs
7. Frank Schleck (Lux) Trek Factory Racing at 1-01
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 1-07
9. Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura at 1-20
10. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1-24
21. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 3-25
27. Richie Porte (GBr) Sky at 5-16
29. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 6-37
Overall classification after stage 14
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 4-37
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 4-50
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 5-06
5. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at 5-49
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r at 6-08
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at 8-33
8. Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura at 9-32
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 10-01
10. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 10-48
15. Richie Porte (GBr) Sky at 16-03
18. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 20-18