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With a late attack out of a 30-rider lead group, Martin held off his chasers to take both the stage win and the yellow jersey in the Tour de France stage with the cobbles; Degenkolb beat Sagan in the sprint for second

Photo: Sirotti

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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JOHN DEGENKOLB

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PETER SAGAN

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TONY MARTIN

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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07.07.2015 @ 18:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After yesterday’s big disappointment, Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) turned his fortunes around when he took it all on the feared Tour de France stage over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. After the pavés had whittled the group down to around 30 riders, he attacked with 3km to go and managed to hold off the diminished peloton to take his second road stage win of his career and the coveted yellow jersey. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) beat Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the sprint for second.

 

When it was announced that the Tour de France would start with a time trial, Tony Martin made it his big goal to take the yellow jersey in this year’s edition of La Grande Boucle. However, the first part of the race has been a long string of near-misses and disappointments and it seemed that his big goal would never be accomplished.

 

He came up short in the opening time trial and one day later he missed out on the jersey when Fabian Cancellara narrowly passed his teammate Mark Cavendish to pick up three bonus seconds. Yesterday it was another heart-breaking near-miss when he missed out on yellow by less than a second on the Mur de Huy where he had put in a brave ride.

 

Today the Paris-Roubaix cobbles offered him another chance to steal that one second from race leader Chris Froome (Sky) but things weren’t looking good when the pavés had created less selection than expected. A 30-rider group had formed and included several sprinters like John Degenkolb, Peter Sagan, Nacer Bouhanni, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bryan Coquard and his own teammate Mark Cavendish.

 

Martin even had to fight his way back to peloton after a late puncture but as the peloton slowed down in the headwind after the final pave, he saw his chance. With a well-timed attack 3km from the finish, he quickly got a big advantage and as the sprinters didn’t have many domestiques left, he managed to hold them off to take both the stage win and the yellow jersey.

 

Many had expected the cobbles to do a lot of damage but that never happened. As they entered the final 20km, a 35-rider group had formed and with only one sector of pave left, a sprint finish looked like the likely outcome. Behind a group with the likes of Thuabut Pinot (FDJ), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) had lost a minute and despite the hard chase efforts of Europcar, FDJ and Bretagne they kept losing ground.

 

At this point, two of the key contenders had bad luck when Martin and Sep Vanmarcke both punctured. While BMC set a fast pace with Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schär and Danilo Wyss, both had to work hard to rejoin the group. Martin got precious support from Michal Golas and Julien Vermote and made the junction with 15km to go.

 

The fight for positon for the final pavé was intense as Sky hit the front with Nicolas Roche, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome. However, it was BMC who won the battle as Schär led the group onto the cobbles.

 

A few riders were dropped as Jakob Fuglsang hit the front to prepare another attack from Vincenzo Nibali who had been very aggressive all day. The move came with 11km to go but he was unable to get clear.

 

Instead, it was Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) who made a strong move and he was quickly joined by John Degenkolb and Greg Van Avemraet (BMC). An impressive Chris Froome joined forces with Thomas to also make it across before Nibali, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) also got back.

 

Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana had both been distanced and so Thomas went straight to the front to set a hard pace. Froome also took some massive turns but there was nothing to be done as Tinkoff-Saxo got the chase organized. Peter Sagan, Daniele Bennati and Roman Kreuziger managed to bring it back together with 7km to go.

 

There was a strong headwind and so Van Avermaet and later Thomas just set a slow pace while the sprinters prepared for the final battle. However, Martin saw his chance with 3km to go when he accelerated and he immediately got a big gap before Giant-Alpecin reacted.

 

Koen De Kort and Warren Barguil chased hard but they were unable to get closer to the German who still had a 10-second advantage at the flamme rouge. The Giant riders blew up and it was Angelo Tulik (Europcar) who did the lead-out for Coquard before Boasson Hagen launched a long sprint.

 

However, it was all too late as Martin held on to take the win with a 3-second advantage. Degenkolb narrowly beat Sagan in the sprint for second.

 

With the gains and bonus seconds, Martin takes the lead with a 12-second advantage over Froome as he goes into stage 6 which should be one for the sprinters. There is no climbs on the menu but with rain and wind on the horizon, it will be another stressful affair.

 

A feared stage

After yesterday’s first taste of climbing, it was back into flat terrain for stage 4 which was the most feared stage of the entire race. It brought the riders over 223.5km from Seraing to Cambrai and only included a category 4 climb on the citadel in Namur in the early part. However, the real challenge were the seven sectors of cobbles of which six were located inside the final 50km of the race. The final of the paves came with 13km to go and then there were flat roads in the final part of the stage.

 

The riders had dry, cloudy conditions when they left Seraing to head towards France and the feared cobbles. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) who suffered a broken vertebra, Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) who broke his collarbone and Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon 18) who had fallen ill, were the three non-starters.

 

The break gets clear

Many have expected an aggressive start to the race but it turned out to be completely different. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) attacked straight from the gun and was quickly joined by Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Frederic Brun (Bretagne) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana). The quartet already had an advantage of 40 seconds at the 4km mark and 2.05 at the 8km mark.

 

While Sky took control of the peloton, the gap grew rapidly. After 10km of racing, it was 3.55 and at the 20km mark it was 5.50. At the 31km mark, it had gone out to 8.10 and 6km later it reached a maximum of 9.10.

 

Giant-Alpecin take control

This was the signal for Giant-Alpecin to kick into action and when they started to climb the Citadel in Namur, they had brought the gap down to 8.20. De Gendt won the KOM sprint while Sky was back on the front as the peloton crested the summit 7.50 later. Marco Haller (Katusha) who crashed yesterday, was dropped but managed to rejoin the peloton.

 

The downward trend continued for the escapees who only had 5.45 in hand when they passed the 67km mark. Georg Preidler was doing the early work and he got some assistance from Michal Golas who gradually brought the gap down.

 

Sky split the field

With 130km to go, the gap was only 3.10 and now the fight for position for the first pave started. Sky hit the front with Richie Porte and Leopold König and they made the peloton split as several riders lost contact in the crosswinds.

 

Tony Gallopin and Degenkolb were among the riders to have been caught and Giant-Alpecin had to work hard to bring their leader back. They made the junction before they got to the cobbles which the escapees hit with and advantage of 1.10.

 

Things calm down

Etixx-QuickStep won the battle and it was Michal Kwiatkowski who led the peloton onto the pave before Cavendish took over. He set the pace for the rest of the time until they exited the sector with a deficit of 55 seconds.

 

Things now calmed down a lot as many riders took a natural break and as they entered the final 100km, the gap was again 3.45. This was the signal for Preidler to go back to work and after he had quickly brough tit down to 2.10, he briefly slowed down.

 

Cavendish wins the sprint

The sprinters started to prepare themselves for the intermediate sprint while De Gendt easily beat Brun in the battle for maximum points, with Westra taking third. Giant-Alpecin tried to do a full lead-out but cracked too early and Marcel Sieberg and Tulik also hit the front too early. In the end Coquard did a long sprint but he was passed by Cavendish who was followed by the Frenchman, Greipel, Sagan and Degenkolb.

 

The gap had come down to less than 2 minutes but as the peloton again slowed down, it went out to 3 minutes. Gradually, the fight for position started as the big teams hit the front and with 70km to go, Damiano Caruso (BMC), Porte, Alberto Losada (Katusha), Jose Herrada (Movistar) and Ivan Basso (Tinkoff-Saxo) were lined out in the front row.

 

A big fight for position

They stayed there for more than 10km while they kept the gap around 2.45. Things got a lot more hectic with 55km to go when the big engines took over and it was Michael Rogers, Luca Paolini and Adriano Malori who took turns before Sagan and Matteo Tosatto took over for Tinkoff-Saxo.

 

While Marcel Sieberg hit the front for Lotto Soudal, Fuglsang and Daniel Martin (Cannondale) both crashed. The Dane managed to rejoin the peloton but the Irishman would never get back as he had to wait for a long time to fix his bike.

 

Kwiatkowski leads them onto the pave

With 48km to go, Astana hit the front with Andrriy Grivko but again it was Kwiatkowski who was first onto the pave. He made the peloton split and things only got harder when Vanmarcke accelerated.

 

Martin and Lars Boom both took turns before they exited the sector. In the front group, De Gendt and Brun had been dropped but the Belgian managed to rejoin them.

 

Astana attack

LottoNL hit the front with Jos Van Emden before Astana was back in control with Dmitriy Gruzdev. However, Sky quickly took over with Luke Rowe and they brought the break back with 41km to go.

 

As they hit the next pave, Astana accelerated hard with Gruzdev and Boom before Boom, Nibali and Stybar got a gap. Vanmarcke bridged across but Martin brought it back together.

 

Kristoff punctures

Stybar made the next move but as he never got clear, Etixx strated to ride tempo with Matteo Trentin and Cavenidhs. BMC took over with Daniel Oss and he was the first rider to hit the next sector.

 

At this point, Kristoff had bad luck as he suffered a puncture that saw him drop back to the second group where Pierre Rolland, Ryder Hesjedal and their teammates were desperately chasing. Meanwhile, BMC continued to set the pace in the front group.

 

Nibali attacks

Astana took control as they approached the longest sector while Greipel rejoined the group after having been dropped. The second group was just 20 second behind but from here they lost ground and ended up losing more than 3 minutes.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front with Michael Valgren but it was Tom Leezer who led Vanmarcke onto the most difficult sector. Here Nibali made a big attack and even though the group split, he was unable to drop his key rivals. Instead, Fuglsang took over as a regrouping took place.

 

Oss led the group onto the pave before Bennati took over and while the two Italians traded pulls, Pinot punctured out of the lead group. He had to stop twice and ended up behind the Rolland group which he ultimately managed to rejoin with the help from several teammates. Oss led the group onto the tarmac and moments later both Vanmarcke and Martin punctured to start the exciting finale.

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