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After a perfectly gauged effort on the climb, Izagirre used his excellent descending skills to drop Pantano and Nibali and solo to victory in stage 20 of the Tour de France; Froome virtually wins the Tour after a ceasefire among the GC riders

Photo: Movistar

CHRIS FROOME

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ION IZAGIRRE

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JARLINSON PANTANO

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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TEAM SKY

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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VINCENZO NIBALI

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23.07.2016 @ 18:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

On the final day that the team could realistically hope for the win, Ion Izagirre saved the Tour de France for Movistar by claiming his second grand tour stage win with an excellent display of descending skills in Morzine on stage 20 of the race. Having gauged his effort perfectly on the climb to make it back to the leaders, he dropped Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the tricky, wet descent and soloed to victory on the final mountain stage of the race. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) were the only GC riders to attack and was rewarded by moving into the top 10 while Chris Froome (Sky) finished safely to virtually secure the overall victory ahead of Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

 

A few days ago, it looked like the Tour de France would end as a bit of a disaster for the Movistar team. They had gone into the race with the goal of taking overall victory but a suffering Nairo Quintana was far off the pace, reportedly suffering from allergy. In fact, it looked like the Colombian would not even finish on the podium and a stage win seemed to be out of reach.

 

However, the team managed to turn things around in the final few stages and even though there was no yellow jersey in the end, the team leaves France far from empty-handed. Yesterday Quintana moved into third overall and today they got the elusive stage win when Ion Izagirre triumphed in the final mountain stage on a day when they also secured victory in the teams classification and saw Alejandro Valverde move into sixth overall.

 

Izagirre took a first grand tour stage win as a neo-pro in 2012 and today he crowned what has been an amazing season by soloing to his first Tour stage win in impressive fashion. Just as it was the case four years ago in the Italian race, he emerged as the strongest from a breakaway as he made use of his fabulous descending skills to get rid of renowned descenders Jarlinson Pantano and Vincenzo Nibali on a wet, dangerous and tricky descent to Morzine.

 

While Izagirre rode to victory, many fans were left disappointed with a GC battle that never came. Only Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) who was in the day’s breakaway, and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who attacked on the final climb of Col du Joux Plane had the guts to attack and they were both rewarded. Rodriguez moved into seventh overall while Kreuziger made it into the top 10 with a 10th place. The losers were Bauke Mollema (Trek) and most notably Fabio Aru (Astana) who slipped to 11th and 13th respectively.

 

After an aggressive race, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Jarlinson Pantano hit the final climb with an advantage of 1.40 over a 9-rider chase group that consisted of Kreuziger, Vincenzo Nibali, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Izagirre and Sergio Henao (Sky). The peloton was 5.40 behind and was under control by Ag2r and Orica-Bike Exchange who chased hard to reduce the loss to Kreuziger who was a GC threat. Christopher Juul, Daryl Impey, Cyril Gautier, Alexis Gougeard and Ben Gastauer did the work.

 

While Kreuziger did all the work in the chase group and Pantano and Alaphilippe worked well together, Impey made the peloton explode. That had an immediate effect as Fabio Aru (Astana) was distanced. Luis Leon Sanchez, Diego Rosa and Tanel Kangert stayed with him but there was nothing to be done as the Italian exploded completely.

 

Bauke Mollema (Trek) had been dropped on the previous climb but after he had made it back on the descent, he made a surprise attack. Sky didn’t react and just took over the pace-setting from Impey as Geraint Thomas hit the front.

 

Seven kilometres from the top, Nibali attacked from the chase group and he quickly reduced the gap to 45 seconds. When he was 20 seconds ahead of the chase group, Costa took off in pursuit. De Gendt and Henao were dropped.

 

Thomas rode solidly to keep Mollema at 15 seconds and reduce the gap to the leaders to 4.30 with 18km to go. At the same time, he whittled the group own to less than 20 riders

 

Alaphilippe didn’t get much help from Pantano and less than six kilometres from the top, he made an attack. Pantano fell behind but the Colombian gritted his teeth and slowly made it back. Further back, Izagirre, Zakarin and Kelderman caught Costa while Kreuziger and Rolland fell back.

 

Alaphilippe again dropped Pantano 5km from the top where Nibali was just 25 seconds behind but the Colombian dug deep to keep the distance small. Further back, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) attacked and he easily passed the fading Mollema. In fact, the Dutchman went straight through the group and fell behind.

 

Pantano surprised everybody by making an immediate attack when he again caught Alaphilippe but the Frenchman responded promptly. Instead, Nibali made contact four kilometres from the top and the Italian tried to attack immediately, making two failed accelerations.

 

With 15km to go, Nibali went again and this time his rivals cracked. The Italian immediately got a 10-second gap and soloed towards victory. Moments later, Izagirre caught Pantano and Alaphilippe and he sprinted straight past, with only the Colombian able to follow.

 

While Thomas continued to ride on the front, Zakarin dropped back to help Rodriguez who was now 40 seconds ahead. They passed Henao who fell back and briefly took over the pace-setting in the peloton before Thomas again hit the front. The group consisted of Froome, Thomas, Henao, Poels, Quintana, Valverde, Majka, Bardet, Caruso, Porte, Meitnjes, Martin and Yates.

 

800m from the top, Pantano and Izagirre caught Nibali and the Colombian set the pace before leading Nibali and Izagirre over the top. An impressive Zakarin led his leader Rodriguez over the line 2.20 behind the leaders while Thomas was first from the peloton 30 seconds later. Rolland was caught just as they reached the top.

 

Izagirre took control on the descent and as Pantano almost missed a turn from second position, the Basque rode away. Pantano dropped Nibali but he failed to get any closer to Izagirre and the Italian just drifted backwards.

 

The GC battle was neutralized as Thomas just guided the group down the descent. They picked up Zakarin but with 5km to go, they were still 20 seconds behind Rodriguez.

 

Izagirre extended his advantage all the way down the wet descent and had plenty of time to celebrate his win. Pantano took second 20 seconds later before a disappointed Nibali reached the finish. Alaphilippe got close but had to settle for fourth, followed by Costa, Kreuziger and Kelderman.

 

Thomas led the peloton onto flat roads and then let Martin, Bardet and Yates sprint for the minor positions. The Irishman finished the stage in 8th, gaining six seconds on the race leader who crossed the line safely in 20th to all but secure his third Tour de France win.

 

Froome leads Bardet by 4.05 and Quintana by 4.21 and now just needs to get safely through the final stage which is the traditional ceremonial affair in Paris. After an opening section with a small climb, the race ends with 8 laps of the well-known 6.5km circuit where the sprinters are expected to battle it out for the win.

 

The final mountain stage

After yesterday’s mountain stage, there was one final chance to change the GC in stage 20 which brough the riders over 146.5km Megeve to Morzine. After an early category 2 climb that started after just 10km of racing, the riders tackled the famous Col de la Colombiere and Col de la Ramaz but the key challenge was the brutal Col de Joux Plane. The top came just 12km from the finish and was followed by a famous, very difficult descent to the line in Morzine.

 

It was dry and sunny when the riders gathered for the start but there were some nervous faces as they rolled through the neutral zone. As soon as the flag was dropped, the pace was fierce and it was Rolland who launched the first attack. De Gendt and Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) joined him but they failed to get clear.

 

A big group gets clear

Instead, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Kelderman and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) gave it a go and a very strong Chavanel ultimately got clear together with Benedetti, Vakoc, Kelderman and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis). Those five riders were allowed to get a small advantage as the peloton briefly slowed down. However, the attacking soon started again. A chase group with Ben Gastauer (Ag2r), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Fabrice Jeandesboz (Direct Energie), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Michael Matthews (Oirca-BikeExhange), Roy Curvers (Giant-Alpecin) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek) bridged the gap before they hit the climb while lots of riders, including Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) also tried to make contact.

 

While Barguil and van Garderen were brought back by the aggressive riding in the peloton, the front group dug deep to maintain a 20-second advantage as the peloton hadn’t calmed down yet. Ilnur Zakarin (Trek) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) took off in pursuit and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) tried to drag a group clear on the hilly run to the first climb.

 

More riders make the junction

Zakarin and De Gendt were the first to make the junction before Nibali’s group which also contained Roman Kreuziger, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Dylan van Baarle, Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale), Emanuel Buchmann, Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18), Julian Alaphilippe, Maximiliano Richeze (Etixx-QuickStep), Ion Izagirre, Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Cyril Gautier (Ag2r), Sergio Henao (Sky), George  Bennett, Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Frank Schleck (Trek), Jarlinson Pantano (IAM), Bryan Coquard (Direect Energie) and Christopher Juul (Orica-BikeExhange) joined the move. As soon as they hit the climb, Barguil, Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Daniel Teklehaimanot (Direct Energie) gave chase.

 

The peloton had split into multiple groups in the run-in to the climb but Sky allowed a regrouping to take place before Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard upped the pace. With Kreuziger in the group, they had to ride relatively hard and this meant that riders started to suffer immediately, with the injured Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ), Marcel Kittel, Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep), Leigh Howard (IAM) and Michael Albasini (Orica-BikeExchange) among the first to get dropped.

 

De Gendt takes off

Van Baarle and Gougeard took some huge turns in the front group which split as Vakoc, Curvers, Lindeman, Buchmann, Richeze, Coquard and Erviti were all dropped. That spurred De Gendt on and the Belgian rode away from the rest. Pantano briefly gave chase but he was soon brought back.

 

De Gendt reached the top with an advantage of 30 seconds before Pantano beat Gougeard and Kreuziger in the sprint for second. Rowe and Stannard led the peloton over the line 2.05 later after André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) had dug very deep to stay with the group.

 

De Gendt is caught

De Gendt was hit by a small shower on the descent and as he took it easy, Sagan, Matthews, Costa, van Baarle, Kreuziger, Henao and Kelderman made it back. Sagan kept riding hard but was not bothered by the intermediate sprint which Matthews won ahead of De Gendt and the world champion.

 

Erviti made it back to the chasers which made contact with the front octet just as they reached the sprint. Barguil, Teklehaimanot and Coquard were stuck one minute behind and Feillu, Richeze and Vakoc were also in between. Rowe and Stannard led the peloton across the line 2.55 behind the leaders.

 

De Gendt wins the KOM sprint

As the front group hit the Col de la Colombiere, Sagan and van Baarle did a lot of work for Kreuziger and Rolland respectively. However, it was soon left to the world champion who led group all the way up the climb, extending the advantage to 4.45 and dropping Erviti in the process. The Spaniard fell back to Barguil and Teklehaimanot who approached from behind.

 

De Gendt beat Pantano in the KOM sprint while further back Barguil made a big sprint to make contact just as they reached the top. Moments later, Henao punctured out of the front group and he faced a hard chase to make it back.

 

8 riders get clear

Sagan, Kreuziger, Pantano, Costa, Gougeard, Nibali, Izagirre and Alaphilippe dropped their companions on the descent and they reached the bottom with an advantage of 45 seconds. Sagan did all the work in the downhill section and then the octet started to cooperate. They were now 5.50 ahead of the peloton.

 

There was no cooperation in the chase group and this allowed Gastauer who had fallen behind, Henao, Erviti and Teklehaimanot to join them. They continued to lose ground and with 70km to go, they had lost more than a minute.

 

Astana start to chase

The gap reached 6.30 before Kreuziger became too big a threat for Astana that put Andriy Grivko and Paolo Tiralongo on the front. When Sagan led the first 8 riders onto the Col de la Ramaz, they had shaved 40 seconds off the lead.

 

Sagan emptied himself in the front group while the chase group started to split up. Erviti, Gallopin, Matthews, Schleck, Chavanel, Teklehaimanot, Van Baarle, Slagterm Gastauer and Gautier were amongthe ones to get dropped. At the same time, Bennett, Kelderman and Barguil tried to attack but they failed to get clear.

 

Sagan ends his work

As soon as the peloton hit the climb, Astana went full gas with Alexey Lutsenko and Luis Leon Sanchez and they made the peloton explode to pieces.

 

10km from the top, Sagan swung off and then Kreuziger had to do the work himself. Moments later, Gougeard punctured out of the group but he did an impressive job to make it back while Kreuzger rode hard on the front.

 

De Gendt attacks again

Sanchez took some huge turns in the peloton and that had a big effect as Sky lost Rowe, Stannard and Mikel Landa. Bora-Argon 18 captain Emanuel Buchmann also lost contact.

 

De Gendt went into TT mode and didn’t look back, meaning that the chasers were suddenly very close to making it back. This prompted Nibali to attack but it was the counterattack from Gougeard that worked well and the Frenchman got a solid advantage.

 

Mollema is dropped

De Gendt split the chase group and only Rolland, Jeandesboz, Zakarin and Henao could follow as they made it back to the chase group which was now 10 seconds behind Gougeard. Further back, Ag2r upped the pace in the peloton, first with Jan Bakelants and then with Alexis Vuillermoz.

 

Ag2r’s fast pace created a big selection. First Vasil Kiryienka became the next Sky rider to get distanced but the real drama happened when Bauke Mollema (Trek) was distanced.

 

Gougeard was brought back and while he was dropped immediately, De Gendt took off in a solo move. Costa and Rolland gave chase while Kelderman joined the Kreuziger group.

 

Pantano attacks

De Gendt reached the top with an advantage of 31 seconds over Costa and Rolland who crossed the line in that order, followed by Pantano and Kreuziger. The two chasers were brought back on the upper slopes of the wet descent. Moments later, Sanchez led the peloton to the top with a deficit of 4.45.

 

Pantano went full gas down the descent and sprinted past De Gendt before being joined by Alaphilippe. Things were completely different for Rolland and Zakarin who have both crashed recently and was left behind. De Gendt suffered the same fate as he was passed by the chasers.

 

The chase gets organized

While Sanchez safely negotiated the descent in the peloton, Pantano and Alaphilippe reached the bottom with an advantage of 40 seconds over the chasers and 6.00 over the peloton. It had even gone out to 50 seconds and 7.00 with 30km to go where De Gendt had rejoined the chase group. Mollema had also made it back to the peloton as he benefited from the slow pace.

 

Kreuziger was a big danger for Yates in the GC and so Orica-BikeExchange put Juul on the front. Moments later Daryl Impey joined him and Gastauer, Gautier and Gougeard also came to the fore for Ag2r.

 

Rolland and Zakarin joined the seven chasers with 25km to go. There was no cooperation in that group and so Kreuziger made a failed attack. Moments later, they hit the climb where the final action unfolded.

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