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Only Sagan could keep up with Van Avermaet when he made a powerful surge on the short ramp to the finish of stage 13 of the Tour de France and the Belgian held off the Slovakian to take the win; Froome retained the yellow jersey

Photo: Sirotti

CHRIS FROOME

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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JAN BAKELANTS

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PETER SAGAN

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TEAM SKY

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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17.07.2015 @ 18:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) finally took the elusive first Tour de France stage victory that has so often eluded him when he came out on top after a close battle with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in stage 13 of this year’s race. With a powerful surge right from the bottom of the 570m climb to the finish, he distanced everybody but Sagan who was unable to come around him. The peloton split to pieces but the main contenders finished together and so Chris Froome (Sky) defended the yellow jersey.

 

For several years, Greg Van Avermaet was known as the eternal runner-up who often wasted his energy and so came up short in the finales. That has been reflected in the Tour de France where he has had several near-misses both in 2014 and 2015.

 

However, things have changed recently. Towards the end of last year the Belgian suddenly became a winner and since then he has regularly clocked up victories, most notably in races like Tirreno-Adriatico and the Eneco Tour. Nonetheless, he was still empty-handed after the first half of this year’s Tour and as he is set to leave the race on the second rest day due to the imminent birth of his first child, he was running out of options to break the drought.

 

Today things finally came together for the versatile Belgian when he won stage 13 in impressive fashion. The stage finished with a short 570m ramp to the finish in Rodez and was widely tipped to be one for the puncheurs. However, the sprinters still wanted to give it a try despite the average gradient being no less than 9.6%.

 

As expected, the ascent proved to be too tough for the fast guys and instead it was Van Avermaet who found himself in the right terrain. Having hesitated for too long in stage 6, he kicked ride from the bottom of the climb and only Peter Sagan could keep up with him. The Slovakian tried to come around when the road flattened at the top but he simply didn’t have the power of the strong Belgian.

 

However, it was no easy feat to bring it back together for a sprint and Van Avermaet strongly relied on other teams to bring back a strong break. With 10km to go, Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) still had an advantage of 40 seconds and most of the teams that had been working hard were blowing up. Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Stephen Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) and Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) were in charge for the pace-setting but they had a gard time bringing the gap down.

 

They brought back Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) who had been dropped from the break and later also Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin), meaning that only the trio was left in front. While riders sat up in the hilly terrain and the sprinters fought for position, Yates swung off and left it to Cummings and Geschke to chase.

 

With 5km to go, the gap was still 30 seconds and moments later Geschke ended his work. It was an impressive Cummings who did all the way to bring the gap down to 15 seconds with 1.5km to go.

 

Bauke Mollema (Trek) suffered a puncture but lost no time due to the 3km rule while Marco Haller hit the front for Katusha to set up Alexander Kristoff. His massive turn made a big difference and as Etixx-QuickStep took over inside the final kilometre, the gap was coming down quickly.

 

De Gendt tried one final surge but it was Kelderman who countered the move as they hit the climb. However, the gap was melting away and he was passed by Arnaud Demare (FDJ) who had hit out early.

 

Behind Demare, Van Avermaet had started his sprint and very quickly the Belgian, Sagan, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and John Degenkolb (Giant-ALpecin) had distanced the rest. The German was the first to surrender and when Bakelants also lost contact, it was down to a duel. Sagan tried to pass Van Avermaet who was riding on the front but with lactic acid in the entire body, he was unable to come around and had to settle for second.

 

Chris Froome (Sky) saw gaps open in the finale and sprinted his way to sixth in the stage. However, his key rivals were glued to his wheel and so nothing changed at the top of the standings where he still holds a 2.52 lead over Tejay van Garderen (BMC).

 

He faces a much tougher challenge in stage 14 which is to provide the next battle between the overall contenders. After a lumpy first part, the stage has a flat middle section and a difficult finale with three tough climbs in Massif Central. In the end, the riders will tackle the 3km Montee Laurent Jalabert which has an average gradient of 10% before they reach the final 1.5km which are flat.

 

A transitional stage

After three days in the Pyrenees, it was back into flatter terrain for stage 13 which brought the riders over 198.5km from Muret to Rodez. The first half of the course was almost completely but the second half significantly with several smaller climbs of which three were categorized. The stage had a nasty sting in its tail as the final 570m were uphill at an average gradient of 9.6%.

 

It was another very hot day in Southern France when the riders gathered for the start in Rodez. All riders who finished yesterday’s stage were present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

The break is formed

Going into the stage, everybody had been talking about it as being a good chance for a breakaway so most were prepared for a fast start. Right from the beginning, LottoNL-Jumbo and Cannondale-Garmin went on the attack but it was the counterattack by Cyril Gautier (Europcar) who initiated the move, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) that turned out to be the successful one.

 

The quartet got clear after less than one kilometre of racing while Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne) took off in pursuit. After 2.5km of racing, they were already 50 seconds ahead of a surprisingly slow-riding peloton. One kilometre later it had gone out to 1.40.

 

Giant-Alpecin in control

The two front groups merged after 5km of racing while Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Andriy Grivko (Astana) took off in pursuit. As this happened, Giant-Alpecin came to the fore and quickly brought the gap down from 2.15 to 1.50.

 

The two chasers were brought back at the 10km mark where the gap was still 1.50. Giant-Alpecin now allowed the gap to grow a bit and when they disappeared from the front, it had gone out to 3.50 at the 17km mark after the German team had briefly tried to send a rider on the attack.

 

De Gendt wins the sprint

The gap reached a maximum of 4.20 before Giant-Alpecin went back to work and at the 40km mark they had reduced their deficit to 3.50. Georg Preidler and Ramon Sinkeldam did the early work to keep it stable at between 3.30 and 4.00 for a most of the day while the peloton enjoyed a relaxed ride in the sun after some tough stages.

 

Alberto Contador had plenty of time to rejoin the peloton after a puncture while the sprinters prepared for the intermediate sprint. De Gendt, Perichon and Haas sprinted for maximum points and crossed the line in that order followed by Kelderman, Geniez and Gautier.

 

Greipel wins the battle

In the peloton, Geofrrey Soupe tried to hit out early but he was closed down by Mark Renshaw who did the lead-out for Mark Cavendish. However, it was André Greipel who surged clear and won the battle again John Degenkolb. Cavendish and Sagan were next across the line.

 

Preidler and Sinkeldam went back to work and they started to lose a bit of ground. With 85km to go, the terrain got hillier and they were now 4.40 behind. The two workers swung off and instead Albert Timmer and Roy Curvers took over.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo come to the fore

Gautier had to use some energy to rejoin the peloton after a puncture but things were still looking good for the break which had an advantage of 3.55 with 75km to go. This was the signal for Tinkoff-Saxo to kick into action as Michael Valgren and Matteo Tosatto started to work with Curvers and Timmer.

 

Puncture for Nibali

On the first climb, several riders got dropped as the peloton had to ride hard to bring the strong break back. De Gendt surged ahead to lead Geniez over the top where Tosatto was first from the peloton 3.54 later.

 

A crosswinds section split the peloton over the top and Greipel was one of the many riders who found himself in the second group. The group was losing ground and seemed to be out of the battle for the win until Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) punctured. He suddenly found himself in the second group and as he asked the entire Astana team to wait for him, the group closed a 30-second back with 56km to go.

 

Peraud goes down

At this point, Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) had gone down in a solo crash and he was in a lot of pain as he worked his way back to the peloton after having been distanced by 3 minutes. Meanwhile, Curvers and Timmer had briefly blown up but they managed to get back to the front to join forces with Tosatto and Valgren before they swung off when they hit the second climb.

 

With 45km to go, the gap was still 3.05 and so MTN-Qhubeka put Jacuqes van Rensburg on the front. He quickly disappeared as did Valgren and instead it was Sven Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) who came to the fore. Tinkoff-Saxo also started to use their strong climbers as Michael Rogers, Rafal Majka and Roman Kreuziger worked with Tosatto and Tuft.

 

Fuglsang is dropped

Geniez led the front group over the top of the climb at a point when the gap was still 2.30. As they hit the next climb with 32km to go, it was still 2.15.

 

Greipel was one of many riders to get dropped on that climb where Kelderman took maximum points. Surprisingly, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana ) was also distanced while Peraud dug deep to stay in the peloton.

 

The attacking starts

With 25km to go, the gap was still 1.40 and it was Tuft, Tosatto, Majka, Rogers and Kreuziger doing the work before Daniel Teklehaimanot briefly helped for MTN-Qhubeka. Moments later the cooperation in the break ended when Haas attacked. He stayed 10 seconds ahead for a while and reopened his advantage from 1.30 to 1.45 but with 18km to go, it was back together.

 

As the front group hit an uncategorized climb with 14km to go and an advantage of 1.10, De Gendt accelerated. Perichon, Geniez and Gautier were distanced but the latter made it back. Haas tried to counterattack but it was the move from Kelderman that worked.

 

Gautier managed to rejoin the Dutchman and later De Gendt also made it back. With 13km to go, they had an advantage of 1.00 over the splintering peloton in which Cummings and Yates were setting the pace. Later Geschke also came to the fore and as they entered the final 10km, they had brought it down to 40 seconds, setting the scene for the dramatic finale.

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