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Part of a 29-rider front group, Bardet attacked on the Col du Glandon, dropped Anacona on the descent and soloed his way to the victory on stage 18 of the Tour de France; Froome responded to all attacks and retained yellow

Photo: A.S.O.

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23.07.2015 @ 17:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Romain Bardet (Ag2r) turned a bad Tour de France around in the most impressive fashion when he claimed a memorable solo win in the second stage in the Alps. Part of a 29-rider group that escaped on the first climb, he attacked near the top of the Col du Glandon, dropped Winner Anacona (Movistar) on the descent and held off the late chase from Pierre Rolland (Europcar) to take the biggest victory of his career and move into the top 10 of the overall standings. Chris Froome (Sky) responded to all attacks and retained his yellow jersey.

 

Going into the Tour de France, Romain Bardet had lofty ambitions of a top 5 after he finished sixth in last year’s edition of the race. However, those plans were all destroyed in the Pyrenees where he suffered massively and seemed to have dropped out of GC contention.

 

However, he showed signs of improvement when he finished third in the big mountain stage to Plateau de Beille and again got close in Mende where he was third. That made him optimistic that he would be able to take that elusive stage victory in the Alps but it got off to a bad start as he suffered from a hunger knock yesterday.

 

However, Bardet was determined to bounce back in today’s stage that had all the characteristics of a day for a breakaway. Bardet was attentive to make it into the 29-rider group that escaped already on the first climb and in the end he turned out to be the strongest, riding away to a solo win.

 

Bardet made his move after the group had been whittled significantly down on the Col du Glandon as he attacked just 2km from the summit. One of his main rivals, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), was taken out by a motorcycle and this allowed him to crest the summit with only Winner Anacona (Movistar) for company.

 

Bardet again proved that he is an excellent descender and so dropped the Colombian in the tricky downhill section. Hence, he hit the bottom of the Lacets de Montvernier climb with 13km to go with an advantage of 42 seconds over a chase group with Fuglsang, Pierre Rolland, Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), Damiano Caruso (BMC), Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka), Bob Jungels (Trek) and Anacona.

 

Gautier sacrificed himself for Rolland and made a big surge as they started to climb. Only Rolland, Jungels Fuglsang and Anacona could keep up with him and the Dane was quickly distanced when Jungels took over.

 

Despite the fast pace, Bardet maintained an advantage of 35-40 seconds for most of the climbs while Fuglsang dropped back to the rest of the original group. Moments later Anacona attacked and that spelled the end for Jungels and Gautier who were dropped.

 

With one kilometre of climbing left, Bardet and a 30-second advantage over Anacona and Rolland and he was still riding strongly. He crested the summit as the lone leader while Fuglsang and Jungels rejoined the chasers, with the Dane leading Rolland, Anacona and the Trek rider across the line.

 

On a small hill before the descent, Rolland attacked and no one had any response to the Frenchman. From there, it was a duel between Bardet and Rolland but the gap constantly stayed around 30 seconds and it quickly became apparent that Bardet would take the win. Rolland had to settle for second while Anacona won the sprint for third after Pauwels had rejoined that group.

 

Further back, the battle for the GC was on. After Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had briefly been dropped on the Glandon and Alberto Contador had tried an attack from the distance, a regrouping had taken place. Hence, it was a group with Vincenzo Nibali, Tanel Kangert, Michele Scarponi, Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Leopold König, Alberto Contador, Rafal Majka, Jonathan Castroviejo, Nairo Quintana, Valverde, Samuel Sanchez, Warren Barguil, Joaquim Rodriguez, Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, Ruben Plaza and Mathias Frank that hit the bottom of the climb together.

 

König led the group onto the ascent before Majka upped the pace to prepare an attack. Castroviejo, Plaza and Rodriguez fell off the pace before the Pole and Contador made their move.

 

The effort didn’t pay off but the attack was enough to distance Kangert, Sanchez, Barguil and Mollema. Majka swung off and instead Gesink took over.

 

Less than one kiloemtre from the top, Nibali attacked. Valverde didn’t give him an inch but Froome seemed to be suffering as he lost a bit of ground. However, he managed to rejoin Nibali, Valverde, Contador, Thomas and Quintana and later Frank and Scarponi also made it back as they crested the summit.

 

Gesink set the pace in the peloton as he tried to limit his losses to Bardet while Sanchez, Mollema and Barguil chased hard further back. The latter managed to get back and even won the sprint for 10th when the group reached the finish with a time loss of 3.20. Mollema and Sanchez lost another 20 seconds.

 

Froome retained his advantage of 3.10 over Quintana in the overall standings while Bardet passed Barguil to move into the top 10. However, more changes are expected in tomorrow’s third stage in the Alps. At just 138km, it is a short affair but it is a tough affair. The first 15km are all uphill before the riders get to the only flat section. In the second half, the Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Mollard will tire the legs before the riders get to the final 18km climb to the finish at La Toussuire.

 

A big mountain stage

After yesterday’s huge drama, the riders faced more climbing in stage 18 which brought them over 186.5km from Gap to Saint-Jean de-Maurienne. The first 6.3km were all uphill before the riders hit a moderately hilly zone with four smaller climbs. A long descent at the midpoint led to the main challenge of the mighty Col du Glandon which summited 39.5km from the finish. The final part consisted of a long descent and the short and scenic category 2 climb of Lacets de Montvernier whose top was located just 10km from the finish.

 

It was another hot and sunny day in France when the riders gathered for the start in Gap. One rider was absent as Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) is suffering from gastroenteritis and had to throw in the towel.

 

Rolland takes off

With a category 2 climb right from the start, the scene was set for immediate attack and it was Pierre Rolland (Europcar) who opened the show. The Frenchman was joined by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Julian Arredondo (Trek) while Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) took off in pursuit.

 

The South African champion never made it and instead 16 riders tries to bridge the gap. They made the junction at the 9km mark at a point where they were followed by 10 chasers and the peloton had been distanced by 1.10. Rodriguez led Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) over the top of the climb.

 

A big group gest clear

After 12km of racing, the two front groups merged and it was a 29-rider group that had an advantage of 1.35 at the 14km mark. The riders in the break were Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Romain Bardet, Jan Bakelants and Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jonathan Castroviejo and Winner Anacona (Movistar), Damiano Caruso and Rohan Dennis (BMC), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Georg Preidler (Giant), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Michael Matthews and Simon Yates (Orica), Pierre Rolland, Cyril Gautier, Romain Sicard and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Julian Arredondo and Bob Jungels (Trek), Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida), Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), Stef Clement (IAM), Jan Barta (Bora), Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) and they had extended the gap to 2.20 at the 23km mark.

 

The gap continued to grow and when the front group hit the second climb, they had distanced the peloton by 3.55. Here Rodriguez again took maximum points, followed by Pauwels. The peloton crested the summit 4.50 later and was led by Sky.

 

Trek and Giant-Alpecin start to chase

Romain Bardet was an overall threat so it was no surprise to see Giant-Alpecin come to the fore to lend Sky a hand. Later Trek also started to work, keeping the gap at 5 minutes after 45km of racing.

 

Rohan Dennis briefly tried to attack but was brought back after a short while. Moments later Rodriguez led Pauwels over the top of the third climb.

 

The front group splits

After the top, Fuglsang, De Gendt, Rodriguez and Pauwels attacked to form a 5-rider front group. Clement bridged the gap and they worked hard to maintain an advantage of 15 seconds but they were brought back with 115km to go before Rodriguez led Pauwels across the line in the next KOM sprint. At this point, the peloton had seen the gap grown from 4.45 to 5.20

 

Stijn Devolder, Markel Irizar (Trek), Koen De Kort and Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin) worked hard in the peloton and benefited from a flatter section to reduce their deficit to 4.45 as they entered the final 110km. At this point, an ill Mark Renshaw (Etixx-QuickStep) was forced to abandon.

 

Another split in the front group

At the bottom of the Col de la Morte, the gap was down to 4.00 and as Devolder, Irizar, De Kort and Timmer rode hard, the sprinters started to get dropped. Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare were among the riders to get distanced.

 

Ag2r accelerated hard on the descent and that made the front group split. At the bottom, only Preidler, Plaza, Rodriguez, Bardet, Bakelants, Riblon, Anacona, Gautier and Rolland were in the front group while Fuglsang, Jungels, Voeckler, Sicard, Dennis, Pinot, Barta and Kreuziger were in the second group. The second and third group merged and as they approached the intermediate sprint, it all came back together.

 

The peloton splits

In the peloton, De Kort rode very fast on the descent and he made the peloton explode to pieces. At the bottom, only 39 riders were left in the main group while several smaller groups were far behind. Gregory Rast (Trek), Timmer, Sep Vanmarcke and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) had no intention on waiting and as they set a hard pace, they distanced the other groups significantly, with the main group quickly giving up. Impressively, Wout Poels (Sky) managed to bridge from the second to the third group while Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) found himself in the big group with the sprinters.

 

De Gendt attacked just before the intermediate sprint to lead Bakelants, Caruso and Martin across the line. They continued their attack as Barta also joined the group and later Anacona, Voeckler and Fuglsang also made the junction. Finally, Rodriguez, Plaza and Talansky made it across to make it an 11-rider front group. At this point, the peloton was 3.20 behind.

 

De Gendt attacks

The first group had to intention of waiting for the second group and for a long time there was a big fight, with the gap staying around 20 seconds. Nonetheless, De Gendt still managed to attack and he quickly got a solid advantage.

 

With 65km to go, the two groups again merged and at this point De Gendt had distanced them by 20 seconds. Meanwhile, John Degenkolb took some huge turns in the peloton which was now just 2.30 behind.

 

The front group splits to pieces

Arredondo was the first rider to get dropped  from the front group that was chasing hard behind De Gendt. As Martin and Hesjedal sacrificed themselves for Talansky, they brought De Gendt back just as they hit the Col du Glandon.

 

Here the group split to pieces. Martin and De Gendt were the first to get distanced and very quickly the group had been whittled down to just Gautier, Bardet, Fuglsang, Caruso, Rodriguez Talansky, Anacona, Pinot, Rolland, Jungels and Pauwels, with the former doing the damage.

 

Fuglsang accelerates

In the peloton, Degenkolb swung off and left it to Vanmarcke to lead them onto the climb. Here Timmer took over before LottoNL-Jumbo again took control. They started to bring back riders from the breakaway while riders also got distanced.

 

Fuglsang made a huge surge in the front group and that sent Pinot, Jungels and Talansky out the back door. The latter two managed to rejoin the group and as there was a small slowdown, Pinot also paced himself back to the group.

 

Jungels does some damage

In the peloton LottoNL-Jumbo ended their work and so Sky took over the pace-setting. Nicolas Roche rode on the front and he didn’t go full gas, allowing the gap to grow from 2.05 to 2.30 with 55km to go.

 

Yates also made ti back to the front group before they hit a steep section where Jungels set a brutal pace. Pinot and Yates were again dropped while Talansky and Pauwels briefly suffered but managed to rejoin the group.

 

Barguil takes off

While Pinot cracked completely and fell back to the peloton, an impressive Hesjedal fought his way back to the leading group in which Jungels did all the work. The peloton had now been distanced by 3.35 as they entered the final 50km.

 

In the peloton, the attacking started when Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpein) took off. He was joined by Mathias Frank (IAM) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and those three got a small advantage which forced Roche to ride harder. As a consequence, many riders were dropped.

 

Contador makes his move

With 45km to go, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) made his expected attack and he immediately got a solid advantage. He bridged the gap to the Gesink trio that had an advantage of 40 seconds as they hit a flatter section.

 

2km from the top, the attacking started in the front group when Rolland took off. He was joined by Bardet and Fuglsang and those three riders quickly got a small advantage.

 

Fuglsang goes down

Fuglsang went down in a strange crash that ended his time in front while Bardet dropped Rolland. Instead, it was Anacona who joined the Frenchman and the Frenchman led the Colombian over the summit.

 

Further back, Jungels made it a big surge that made the group explode to pieces and while Rodriguez cracked completely, Fuglsang sprinted past the fading Spaniard to crest the summit in fourth behind the Luxembourger.

 

Quintana attacks

Meanwhile, Astana hit the front in the peloton with Tanel Kangert who had bridged the gap to the peloton before Vincenzo Nibali made his attack. Alejandro Valverde was next to try and with Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome on his wheel, he made it back to the Italian.

 

Nibali tried again before Quintana made his move. The Colombian joined the Italian and this forced Sky on the defensive. Geraint Thomas rode strongly to bring them back but only Froome, Rafal Majka and Michele Scarponi could keep up with him while Valverde and Bauke Mollema were dropped.

 

Bardet takes off

At the top, the Contador group was just 2.20 behind the leaders while Nibali led the Froome group over the top just 10 seconds later. As the Italian went full gas on the descent, those two groups merged as they brought Castroviejo back. Valverde and Samuel Sanchez (BMC) managed to get back as they went down.

 

Bardet dropped Anacona on the descent and the Colombian dropped back to a chase group with Fuglsang, Rolland, Gautier, Caruso, Jungels, Talansky and Pauwels. With 25km to go, they were 30 seconds behind the Frenchman.

 

König takes control

In the peloton, Castroviejo set the pace and he lost ground to Bardet who had extended his advantage to 2.50 at this point. Meanwhile, König had rejoined the peloton and Kangert and Mollema were getting closer.

 

Bardet ended the descent with an advantage of 35 seconds over the chasers and 2.50 over the peloton. As König took over the pace-setting in the flat section, both Mollema and Kangert made it back.

 

With Bardet being a GC threat, Gesink, Frank, Mollema and Barguil chased for a while before König again took over. Moment later, Bardet hit the climb to start the exciting finale.

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