Steve Cummings' winning record in WorldTour stage races this year is now four from four. Each one coming from a break, and each one achieved after executing some clinical tactics.
Wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country proved his 2015 Tour stage win was no fluke. A stage in the Critérium du Dauphiné this June showed he was enjoying the best season of his career, and now a stage at the Tour de France shows he is currently one of the best in the world.
The hardest way to win is to do so from a break. Many riders manage it once in their career while only a few will achieve it on more than one occasion. Cummings however is now doing it consistently, something very few riders have ever been able to do.
But as Rolf Aldag and Roger Hammond - Cummings' two Directeur Sportifs at Dimension Data - said, today's win at Lac Payolle was nothing to do with luck.
Cummings had selected this stage two weeks before the race. With one climb toward the end of the route, but no summit finish, it had break away written all over it, but that doesn't make it any easier. Half the peloton would have been eyeing today's stage, hence the reason 29 riders made it in to the break.
Cummings was one of those riders. Tellingly he wasn't in the first break that held around 45 seconds on the bunch during the first 40km, but made sure he was in the move that stuck.
Once in the break that quickly set about building a comfortable lead he wouldn't have taken long to figure out who the danger men were.
Behind his DSs would have been informing him on the chase; how determined the peloton was in the chase, and, specifically, whether or not Team Sky and Movistar looked like they were setting things up for their first big attacks on the Col d'Aspin.
Today's group was no soft break made up of support riders chancing their arm at a stage win. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was there, as was Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step), Daryl Impey (Orica BikeExchange) yellow jersey Greg Van Avermaert (BMC Racing) along with three riders from both Cannondale and Cofidis.
With 60km to go it would have been a brave move to put money on any of those riders.
After the small climb of the Cote de Capvern three riders attacked and got a small gap, Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Matti Breschel (Cannondale) and Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie). It was then that Cummings started to put his plans in to action.
"He let those three guys go, waited until the gap was big enough and then he bounced across it, making sure that nobody went with him, so there was only four in the front." Said Hammond who was in the second team car for Dimension Data today. "He waited until they had enough of a gap, but one that he could get across. There was no luck involved."
With 27 km to go and with the fractured group on the four leader's tails, Cummings made his move. "It was a howling tailwind down that valley, so once again it's Steve understanding that it's no harder on your own." Hammond explained. "The group weren't going to gain any advantage on him with that tailwind, so he gave himself a headstart in to the climb."
It was then a question of Cummings pacing himself up the 12km climb of the Col d'Aspin. "He knows exactly what he can do and what he can't do." Said Aldag who only used the radio to guide Cummings on the Aspin's descent. "You don't have to tell him 'go faster' or 'go slower'. You would be a fool if you tried to pace him."
As Cummings time trialled up the green Pyrenean slopes of the first mountain in this year's Tour it was soon clear that he was riding to victory. His second Tour win in two editions, but more remarkably, Dimension Data's fourth win from seven stages.
Editor of Cycling Weekly magazine, Simon has been working at the title since 2001. In that time he has written product reviews, features and news. He has covered the Tour de France more times than he can remember along with two Olympic Games and many other international and UK domestic races. Once an aspiring bike racer himself, he can still be seen at his club's evening races through the summer.
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