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Having positioned himself on the German’s wheel, Cavendish came around Kittel and held Kristoff and Sagan off to win stage 14 of the Tour de France in a bunch sprint; Froome retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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CHRIS FROOME

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DIMENSION DATA

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MARK CAVENDISH

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PETER SAGAN

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TEAM SKY

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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16.07.2016 @ 18:12 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) continued his dominance of the Tour de France sprints when he took his fourth victory on stage 14 of the French race. Having positioned himself on Marcel Kittel’s (Etixx-QuickStep) wheel for the headwind sprint, he timed his effort perfectly to come around the German and hold off Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) to claim his 30th stage win in the race. Chris Froome (Sky) finished safely and retained the lead.

 

In 2013 and 2014, Marcel Kittel won four stages at the Tour de France and last year André Greipel repeated that performance. Going into this year’s edition of the race, there was a lot of discussion about which of the two Germans was going to be the best sprinter in 2016 and if anyone would be able to again win such a huge amount of stages.

 

With a focus on both the road and the track, Mark Cavendish flew under the radar but after today’s penultimate sprint stage of the race, it is the Brit who has managed to take four stages. After having taken three wins in the first six stages, he suffered massively in the Pyrenees but today he got his just reward when he again did everything right in a difficult headwind sprint on stage 14.

 

The strong wind that has marred the race in recent days blew against the riders for almost the entire day and so it was a very long and slow day in the saddle. Martin Elmiger (IAM), Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) and Alex Howes (Cannondale) were kept under control by the sprint teams until the pace was upped in the finale. With 10km to go, only Elmiger, Benedetti and Roy had survived and they were just 40 seconds ahead.

 

Katusha took control with Angel Vicioso before Elmiger attacked in the front group. Only Roy could follow while Benedetti was distanced and soon brought back.

 

Katusha and BMC kept riding on the front, slowly reducing the gap which was 30 seconds with 8km to go. Moments later, Sky, Tinkoff and Dimension Data lined up next to BMC and Dimension Data as they approached a change in direction.

 

As soon as they took the crucial turn, Sky tried to split things in the crosswinds but the roads were not exposed enough. A few groups fell off the pace but the Brits soon stopped their acceleration.

 

Katusha and Cofidis lined out their troops on the front next to the Sky riders and were now just 10 seconds behind the leaders. As Lotto Soudal hit the front with Tony Gallopin and Dimension Data then started to chase with Bernhard Eisel, the break was brought back with 3km to go.

 

Katusha took control as they hit the 3km finishing straight but Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri and Alexander Kristoff soon backed off. Instead, Cofidis hit the front with Borut Bozic, Geoffrey Soupe and Christophe Laporte.

 

Etixx-QuickStep took full control when they lined out Julien Vermote, Iljo Keisse, Tony Martin, Maximilano Richeze, Fabio Sabatini and Marcel Kittel on the front. Keisse took over and led the bunch as they approached the flamme rouge.

 

With 1200m to go, Lotto Soudal sprinted to the front with Marcel Sieberg, Jurgen Roelandts, Greg Henderson and André Greipel and things were looking promising when Roelandts took over. However, their plans were ruined when Sabatini and Kittel sprinted ahead and Kittel was dropped off on the front with 300m to go.

 

The German launched his sprint but in the headwind it was too early. Cavendish was on his wheel and easily came around. Kittel raised his arm to protest but that only saw him drift backwards while Kristoff, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Sagan sprinted next to the Brit. They were unable to come around and Cavendish took a comfortable win, with Kristoff taking second, Sagan third, Degenkolb fourth and a frustrated Kittel fifth.

 

Chris Froome (Sky) finished safely in the peloton and so retained the lead with an advantage of 1.47 over Bauke Mollema (Trek).

 

He will have a much harder stage tomorrow when the riders will tackle a tough stage in the Jura Mountains. In the first half, the riders will tackle one category 1, one category 2 and two category 3 climbs before they get to the mighty Grand Colombier climb. In the finale, they will face a 23.5km circuit that includes det steep Lacets du Grand Colombier just 14km from the finish. From there, a descent leads to the final 8.5km which are flat.

 

A flat stage

After two big GC days, the riders were expected to have an easier day on stage 14 which brought the riders over 208.5km from Montelimar to Villars-les-Dombes Parc des Oiseaux. There were three category 4 climbs in the first half but apart from that it was an almost completely flat course, meaning that the sprinters were hoping for their penultimate bunch kick in this year’s race.

 

The 187 riders who survived yesterday's windy time trial, were all there when the peloton was gathered for the start 15 minutes earlier than planned. The strong headwind prompted the organizers to change the plans to make sure that the riders didn’t arrive too late.

 

A slow start

As promised, it was great sunshine when the real start was given, but the strong wind meant that nobody wanted to attack. The peloton rolled slowly to the bottom of the first climb where Thomas Ge Gendt (Lotto Soudal) won the KOM sprint. Therefore, there was no stress for Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Chris Anker Sørensen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) who both had mechanical problems.

 

Even Chris Froome (Sky) rode on the front during the calm start until the first attack came after a little less than one hour of racing. Jeremy Roy (FDJ) started the action, and Martin Elmiger (IAM), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) and Alex Howes (Cannondale) soon took off in pursuit. When the Frenchman had a lead of 55 seconds, he waited for the chasers and a front quartet had been gathered after one hour with an average speed of 30.4 km / h.

 

The sprint teams take control

The lead quickly grew to 3.25 before Etixx-QuickStep hit the front. They did not chase yet, and therefore the gap reached 3.50 before Dimension Data and Lotto Soudal also came to the fore. Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) and Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data) set a reasonable pace, but nonetheless the gap went out to 4.40 after 53km of racing.

 

The peloton had an easy day in the headwind while Vakoc, Bak and Berhane cooperated well to keep the gap at around 4.30. For riders sitting on the wheels, there was no stress at all and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) even had time to make fun with the camera when he suffered a puncture with 130km to go.

 

Frank abandons

The peloton took it easy on the second climb as the gap went out from 3.45 to 4.15 before Howes won the KOM sprint. It was the same scenario on the final climb where Benedetti was allowed to cross the line in first position.

 

After the climbs, Vakoc, Berhane and Bak upped the pace and as they entered the final 90km, they had already reduced the gap to 2.55. Meanwhile, Mathias Frank (IAM) who had fallen ill, left the race.

 

Benedetti wins the sprint

The peloton didn’t want to catch the break too early so they allowed the gap to go out to 3.40 during the next 10km. Then the sprint teams again increased the pace and slowly started to reel the escapees in and as they entered the final 70km, the gap had already dropped to 2.30.

 

The four escapees all went for the point in the intermediate sprint where Benedetti surprised his rivals by doing a long sprint. The Italian crossed the line in first position as his companions reacted too late. Howes narrowly beat Roy in the battle for second.

 

More points for Sagan

In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep did a full lead-out for Marcel Kittel who just followed the wheel of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) when the world champion launched a long sprint. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) stayed on the German’s wheel to pick up seventh and eighth place with a minimum effort.

 

Bak, Vakoc and Berhane went back to work and led the peloton into the final 60km 2.05 behind the leaders. Ten kilometres later, the gap was already down to 1.10. At this point, Matti Breschel (Cannondale) abandoned after having been involved in a crash with Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal).

 

Dimension Data take control

While the gap was kept stable at around a minute, the fight for position slowly started with 40km to go. In fact, Vakoc, Berhane and Bak were almost unable to keep their front positions as Movistar, Sky, Katusha and IAM lined up their troops.

 

With 30km to go, the gap was down to just 40 seconds and the gap was coming down quickly when Dimension Data lined out their entire team on the front. Daniel Teklehaimanot took a huge turn on the front and then Serge Pauwels came to the fore to share the work with the Eritrean.

 

A fight for position

Pauwels and Teklehaimanot kept the gap at 25 seconds for several kilometres but with 20km to go, it was down to just 10 seconds. At this point, Michael Schär, Brent Bookwalter and Marcus Burghardt led the BMC team up next the Dimension Data train.

 

Dimension Data eased off a bit and allowed the gap to go out to 40 seconds as they entered the final 15km. Here they hit a small climb where the fast pace set by Roy was too much for Howes who was dropped.

 

Howes was quickly brought back as Dimension Data and BMC continued to ride hard on the front before Katusha moved up next to them in the middle of the road. However, the front trio still had an advantage of 30 seconds with 10km to go. Moments later, Sky made their attack but it all came down to the expected bunch sprint.

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