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After a strong breakaway with Sagan had been brought back, Greipel narrowly held off Degenkolb and Kristoff in a bunch sprint on stage 15 of the Tour de France; Froome finished safely in the peloton to retain the yellow jersey

Photo: Sirotti














19.07.2015 @ 17:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One day after a bad crash, André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) turned his fortunes around in the best possible way when he came out on top in the final bunch sprint before Paris. After a strong breakaway with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) had been brought back, the German held off John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in a close battle to take his third win while Chris Froome (Sky) finished safely in the bunch to retain the yellow jersey.


Yesterday André Greipel crashed hard and two days ago he suffered massively in the heat. Nothing suggested that the big German would be able to return to his winning ways before potentially getting a chance to sprint in Paris.


However, Greipel has recovered remarkably well from his injuries and today he completely turned his race around when he claimed a third stage win in a single edition for the first time in his career. After a splendid performance by his Lotto Soudal team, he negotiated the finale on his own and managed to position himself perfectly to start his sprint from the front when it all came down to a bunch kick in Valence at the end of stage 15.


It was no easy day for the German though as only the final 50km of the stage were flat. The rest of the course was extremely undulating and included an 18.5km uphill section in the beginning.


Several riders were keen to use the tough terrain to go on the attack and after a brutal opening phase, 9 strong riders had gone clear. Peter Sagan, Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michal Kwiatkowski, Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) formed a formidable group that seemed to be riding away with the win.


The fast start had sent several riders out the back door, including Mark Cavendish who had to fight hard all day just to make the time cut. Meanwhile, it was Katusha who took control of the chase and the Russian team seemed to be on the verge of cracking for most of the day.


However, they got some assistance from the Europcar team and as Sagan realized that his effort was in vain, the front group sat up. Hence, it came down to a sprint and Greipel was one of fast guys to have made the selection.


With 10km to go, all was set for the bunch sprint and it was BMC who had taken control with Manuel Quinziato keeping Tejay van Garderen safe. Rohan Dennis took over while the rest of the peloton fought for position and several riders decided to sit up.


Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) made a short-lived attempt but Dennis used his final energy to bring him back before Damiano Caruso took over. He quickly neutralized an attack from Kwiatkowski before leaving it to Michael Schär to set the pace.


Daniel Oss was the final domestique for Tejay van Garderen and when he started to tire Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked. The strong Czech immediately got a big gap and things briefl looked dangerous for the sprinters.


Lotto Soudal kicked into action when Adam Hansen took a turn and Michael Valgren also came to the fore for Tinkoff-Saxo. However, it was Katusha who made the difference when the train of Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri and Alexander Kristoff hit the front and made sure that Stybar was brought back.


Guarnieri took over as they passed the flamme rouge but it was too early for Kristoff’s lead-out man. He was passed on the left-hand side by Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Edvald Boasson Hagen and this forced Kristoff to hit the front just before the final turn with 250m to go.


Greipel had done everything right though and from Kristoff’s wheel he started his sprint. He easily passed the Norwegian and held off John Degenkolb to take the win, with the Giant rider taking second and Kristoff third.


Chris Froome got safely through the day and so he defended his lead of 3.10 over Nairo Quintana (Movistar). He takes it into tomorrow’s stage which is a great chance for a breakaway. It is a long gradual uphill section with a small category 2 climb along the way before the riders reach the finishing circuit around Gap. Here they will face the category Col de Manse and the tricky descent to the final few flat kilometres to the finish.


Sprint or breakaway?

After yesterday’s dramatic battle, it was back into flatter terrain for stage 15 which brought the riders over 183km from Mende to Valence. However, it was a tough start as the first 18.5km were all uphill  with a category 3 climb coming at the 9.4km mark – and then it was a rolling section with two smaller climbs before the riders tackled a long descent to the mainly flat final half. However, they still had to tackle the category 2 Col de l’Escrinet which summited 56.5km from the finish.


Like in the previous stage, it was a very hot day in France when the riders gathered for the start. Those who finished yesterday’s stage were all present apart from Eduardo Sepulveda (Bretagne) who had been disqualified for driving 100m on the back seat of the Ag2r team car.


Cavendish is dropped

Riders had been doing warm-ups to be ready for what was expected to be a very fast and aggressive start and that was no bad idea. The attacking started right from the gun when Daniel Teklehamianot (MTN-Qhubeka) took off. He was joined by 10 riders but after 6km of racing that move was neutralized. Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Garmin) had already been dropped.


Lieuwe Westra (Astana) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Garmin) were the next riders to launch a promising move and they were quickly caught by 14 riders, including Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Michal Kwiatkowski Etixx-QuickStep). Meanwhile, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Jerome Coppel (IAM), Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Michal Golas, Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and Teklehaimanot were among the many riders to get dropped.


A big group gets clear

Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) led Westra over the top of the first categorized climb before six riders made it across to make it a 24-rider front group at the 12km mark. Later another three riders also made the junction so 27 riders worked hard to establish a big advantage.


The riders in the group were Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Michael Rogers and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Winner Anacona and José Herrada (Movistar), Lars Bak and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Simon Geschke (Giant), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Adam Yates (Orica), Michal Kwiatkowski, Matteo Trentin and Rigoberto Uran (Etixx), Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quémeneur (Europcar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL), Bob Jungels (Trek), Kristjian Durasek and Ruben Plaza (Lampre), Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Paul Voss (Bora) and Serge Pauwels (MTN) and they had an advantage of 45 seconds at the 18km mark. However, Katusha were intent on riding for Alexander Kristoff so they put six riders on the front of the peloton and started to chase.


A 9-rider group is formed

While Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) was dropped from the peloton, it was a big battle between Katusha and the front group. At the 27km mark, the gap was 45 seconds, at the 29.5km mark it was 35 seconds and at the 31km mark it was 25 seconds.


As the gap had been brought down to 20 seconds, Sagan, Rogers and Pinot attacked from the breakaway. They were joined by Hesjedal, Trentin, Kwiatkowski, Yates, Geschke and Bak to make it a 9-rider group that had extended the advantage to 40 seconds at the 37km mark.


Katusha chase hard

After 40km of racing, the rest of the original break was caught while the Cavendish group with Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Peraud, Frederic Brun, Antony Delaplaca (Bretagne), Mark Renshaw, Golas, Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep), Tom Leezer (LottoNL-Jumbo),, Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Teklehaimanot and Kennaugh was at 1.50. Katusha briefly got a bit of assistance from IAM but were soon left to do all the work.


A sick Langeveld abandoned the race while Giampaolo Caruso, Tiago Machado and Alberto Losada worked hard in the peloton. Nonetheless, they were losing the battle as the gap had gone out to 1.30 with 125km to go. At this point, the Cavendish group was more than 5 minutes behind.


Katusha lose the battle

Bak was doing any work but the escapees were still riding faster than Katusha. As they hit the next categorized climb, Joaquim Rodriguez even took over the pace-setting but the gap had still gone out to 2.15 when Pinot led the front group over the climb.


Losada, Machado and Caruso went back to work while Rogers was first over the top of the next climb. As the peloton approached, the top there was a big fight for position between the GC teams and this briefly brought the gap down to 1.50.


The peloton splits on the descent

Luke Rowe hit the front on the descent to keep Chris Froome safe as the roads were wet. As a consequence, the peloton split into several group while Kwiatkowski, Sagan, Trentin and Rogers distanced their companions. However, they waited for them as they finished the descent.


On the flat roads, Katusha gave up and while Rowe, Ian Stannard and Leopold König set a slow pace, a regrouping took place and the gap went out to 3.10. Meanwhile, more riders, including Arnaud Demare, Sebastien Chavanel, Tyler Farrar, Florian Senechal, Geoffrey Soupe, Markel Irizar, Marcel Sieberg, Sep Vanmarcke, had dropped back to the Cavendish group which was 8 minutes behind the leaders.


Katusha goes back to work

Rogers suffered a puncture which forced the breakaway to slow down to wait for him. At the same time, Katusha went back to work with Caruso, Losada and Machado and with 75km to go, the combination of those two factors had reduced the gap to 2 minutes.


Rogers did a small lead-out for Sagan in the intermediate sprint but no one wanted to challenge the Slovakian who rode across the line followed by his teammate, Pinot, Kwaitkowski, Trenti and Geschke. In the peloton, Georg Preidler and Roy Curvers did a lead-out for John Degenkolb but the German was not challenged and rode across the line followed by André Greipel.


Sagan suffers

The Katusha work was enough to bring the gap down to 1.35 but strong work by Rogers was enough to extend it to 1.45 as they hit the Col de l’Escrinet. The gap stayed around 1.40 as they went up the climb even though Europcar had now also come to the fore with Thomas Voeckeler and Perrig Quemeneur.


A few riders got dropped from the peloton while Sagan was suffering in the front group. Machado and Losada had blown up and so it was only Caruso working with Voeckler and Quemeneur.


Sky hit the front

As they approached the summit, Roman Kreuziger accelerated hard for Tinkoff-Saxo to make the domestiques blow up and put several riders in trouble. However, Voeckler survived and immediately went back to work.


Pinot led Hesjedal and Kwiakowski over the top of the climb while Voeckler was first from the peloton 1.26 later. Moments later Sky again took control with Luke Rowe and Leopold König to make sure that Chris Froome got safely down the descent.


Trentin attacks

Trentin decided to attack from the breakaway and he quickly got a big advantage as Sagan and Rogers had clearly given up. Things were not made any easier by the fact that Movistar accelerated hard on the descent with Jonathan Castrooviejo and the gap was down to just 1.00 with 50km to go.


Geschke tried to join Trentin but he was brought back. Instead, Hesjedal took off while the rest of the group decided to wait for the peloton.


The break sits up

Romain Sicard, Voeckler and Cyril Gautier were working hard for Europcar and when Trentin decided to wait for Hesjedal with 37km to go, the gap was only 45 seconds. At this point, Sagan stopped to make a bike change.


Lotto Soudal started to chase with Tim Wellens and Thomas De Gendt and Katusha also came to the fore with Caruso and Machado. They slowly brought the gap down and with 29km to go Hesjedal and Trentin decided to sit up.


A fight for position

For the first time, the peloton slowed down a bit while De Gendt, Quemeneur and Machado set a steady pace. However, the Cavendish group had to room to rest as they worked hard to make the time cut 12 minutes behind the peloton.


Machado ended his work as the fight for position gradually started and later Quemeneur also disappeared. Finally, De Gendt got swarmed with 12km to go when the GC teams came to the fore and moments later BMC hit the front to set the scene for the bunch sprint and keep van Garderen safe.



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