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Soloing away from Pantano and Majka on the final climb, Zakarin took his first Tour de France stage win on stage 17 in the Alps; Porte and Froome dropped their rivals and the Brit retained the lead

Photo: A.S.O.












20.07.2016 @ 17:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Two days after Alexander Kristoff’s frustrating near-miss, Ilnur Zakarin saved Katusha’s Tour de France by claiming a dominant solo win on the first big stage in the Alps. Having bridged the gap to Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) on the lower slopes of the final climb, the Russian dropped his companions and reached the finish with an advantage of 55 seconds over Pantano, with Majka completing the podium. Richie Porte (BMC) and Chris Froome (Sky) were the best of the GC riders, with Froome increasing his lead over Bauke Mollema (Trek) to 2.24.


Two months ago it looked like Ilnur Zakarin’s season was ruined when he crashed out of his big goal, the Giro d’Italia, at a point where he was on track for a top 10 finish. However, the Russian made a remarkable recovery to line up for his maiden Tour de France with the goal of building form for the Olympics and gaining experience for a GC campaign in 2017.


The plan has worked out perfectly as the form has clearly been on the rise and he was agonizingly close to victory last Sunday when the loss of a contact lens on a key descent prevented him from benefiting from the strength he had shown on the climbs. However, he showed great mental strength to put the disappointment behind and today he rode even stronger to add a Tour stage win to the victory he took at last year’s Giro.


Zakarin was attentive in the hectic opening phase where more than 51km were covered during the first hour and he made it into an 11-rider group that escaped on the first climb. He stayed calm when Jarlinson Pantano and Rafal Majka attacked on the final descent, bridged the gap on the lower slopes of the final climb and then soloed clear to take the win with an advantage of 55 seconds over Pantano.


Further back, Movistar and Astana tried to prepare attacks from Nairo Quintana and Fabio Aru but a very strong Mikel Nieve dampened all the attacking spirit on the final climb. Only Richie Porte managed to make a difference and after he had initially gone clear on his own, Chris Froome bridged the gap, with the pair arriving at the finish together. Adam Yates and Romain Bardet were the best of the rest while Nairo Quintana’s poor form was again evident as the Colombian lost ground in the finale.


After a calm middle section, the action heated up on the Col de la Forclaz which preceded the final climb. Zakarin, Majka, Pantano, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Stef Clement (IAM), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Steve Morabito (FDJ), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Tanel Kangert and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) hit ascent Majka led the front group onto the Col de la Forclaz with an advantage of 13 minutes and it didn’t take long for Sagan to sit up after he had sacrificed himself for Majka. In the peloton, there was a big fight for position as they approached the climb.


With 27.5km to go, Gallopin launched the first attack and Lutsenko immediately bridged the gap. The rest of the group didn’t react and so they quickly got an advantage of 20 seconds.


As soon as the peloton hit the climb 12 minutes behind the leader, Vasil Kiryienka took over the pace-setting for Sky and he made the peloton explode to pieces. Even good climbers like Warren Barguil who suffered from his injuries from a previous crash, Rui Costa, Ruben Plaza and Daniel Navarro were dropped.


Winner Anacona (Movistar) hit the front and his brutal pace split the peloton even more. Kiryienka and Ion Izagirre (Movistar) were among the many riders to lose contact as the Colombian went full gas. However, he soon exploded and then Sky were back in control with Mikel Landa.


Clement went full gas in the chase group and this forced Lutsenko to go harder. Gallopin fell back to the chase group from which Van Avermaet was dropped. Moments later, the Frenchman fell further back.


Anacona again hit the front in the peloton which had been whittled down to around 30 riders but with 22km he disappeared for good. Landa again took over the pace-setting and kept the gap stable at around 11 minutes.


Clement slowly reeled Lutsenko in and the Kazakh was dropped almost immediately as the Dutchman continued to ride hard. Moments later, Majka led Voeckler and Morabito over the top with an advantage of 10.20


In the peloton, Astana finally kicked into action, putting Paolo Tiralongo on the front. The Italian strung the group out and brought Sagan back in the process.


Nibali took over from Tiralongo and sent Vuillermoz, Moinard, Rolland, Buchmann and Fuglsang out the back door and bringing Alaphilippe back. Later Caruso, Stetina and Thomas also had to surrender but Froome still had Landa, Nieve, Poels and Henao at his side.


Pantano attacked on the descent and only Majka could follow the Colombian. The pair hit the final climb with an advantage of around 10 seconds and Zakarin immediately sensed the danger, taking off in pursuit. Feillu gave chase while Clement and Voeckler were dropped.


Nibali led the peloton over the top of the Col de la Forclaz 10 minutes behind the leaders and then safely led his teammates Diego Rosa and Fabio Aru down the descent. Meanwhile, Zakarin joined Pantano and Majka, with the trio now leading Feillu by 25 seconds and the rest of the chasers by 35 seconds. Pozzovivo and Moabito soon joined Feillu


With 6.5km to go, Zakarin launched a big attack and after initially getting a gap, Pantano joined him. The Russian tried to accelerate again and this time the Colombian had to surrender.


While Zakarin quickly got a big gap, Nibali led the peloton onto the climb and immediately dropped Landa, Caruso and Zubeldia. The group now only consisted of Froome, Nieve, Poels, Henao, Quintana, Valverde, Nibali, Rosa, Aru, Kreuziger, Bardet, Mollema, Porte, Reichenbach, Rodriguez, Meintjes, Martin and Yates.


While Zakarin entered the final 4km with an advantage of 20 seconds over Pantano, Rosa took over from Nibali. He set a brutal pace for one kilometre but when he swung off, Aru’s attack didn’t come. Instead, Sergio Henao took over the pace-setting for Sky and he slowed the group down considerably.


Alejandro Valverde upped the pace for Movistar and that was too much for Kreuziger and Henao who fell behind. However, the Spaniard quickly swung off and then Mikel Nieve took control for Sky.


Nieve controlled the group while Zakarin continued to increase his advantage over Pantano. The Spaniard didn’t react when Dan Martin launched the first attack and so the Irishman got an advantage of a few seconds.


Valverde and Reichenbach were dropped as Nieve upped the pace to slowly reel Martin in. The Spaniard continued to ride on the front, setting a pace that didn’t allow anyone to attack.


Zakarin passed the flamme rouge with an advantage of 40 seconds over Pantano and rode hard all the way to the finish before he finally sat up to celebrate the win. Pantano was second at 55 seconds while Majka reached the finish 1.25 too late, with Durasek crossing the line in fourth and Feillu rounding out the top 5.


The big attack in the group of favourites finally came from Porte and he immediately got a gap. Quintana tried to give chase but as Poels hit the front, it was evident that the Colombian didn’t have it. While Rodriguez and Martin fell behind, the Dutchman reeled the Colombian in.


Aru launched the next attack but Poels didn’t give him an inch. However, the faster pace had a big effect as Mollema fell behind.


Poels set Froome up for his big attack and only Quintana and Poels could follow. The Dutchman again hit the front and dropped Quintana before Froome went again. In a few seconds, he bridged the gap to Port.


While Porte kept riding on the front as the passed the flamme rouge, Quintana, Aru, Meintjes and Yates dropped Poels and gathered to form a chase group. Quintana tried to attack again but Yates easily reeled him in and when the Brit upped the pace even further, the Colombian fell behind. Aru and Meintjes also lost contact and only Bardet could hang onto the Brit.


Porte and Froome reached the finish to take 10th and 11th on the stage, losing 7.59 to Zakarin. Yates arrived 8 seconds later, with Bardet losing 3 seconds in the sprint. Aru and Meintjes were next while a disappointed Quintana lost 28 seconds. Mollema had an even harder time, losing 40 seconds but retaining second place.


Froome now leads Mollema by 2.27 and Yates by 2.53 while Quintana is 3.27 behind in fourth. He faces an equally important test tomorrow in the final time trial of the race. The 17km stage has a flat start for the first 4km but from there it is uphill almost all the way to the finish. The first three kilometres of the climb are very steep but from there it is mainly around 4-5%. In the end, the riders face a descent of around 2km.


A big stage in the Alps

After a well-deserved rest day, the riders faced the first of four big stages in the Alps. Stage 17 brought the riders over 184.5km from the Swiss capital of Bern to a summit finish in Finhaut-Emosson. After a flat start, there were two category 3 climbs at the midpoint before a long descent led the peloton to the valley. In the end, they faced a brutal finale that started with 30km to go when they hit the category 1 Col de la Forclaz. A short descent then led to the bottom of the final HC climb which averaged 8.4% over 10.4km and had double-digit gradients in the final 3km.


High sunshine and unbearable heat greeted the riders as they gathered for the start of Bern where Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Rohan Dennis (BMC) were absent, both having announced their withdrawal on the rest day. The rest of the field started out at a brutal pace with plenty of attacks. A LottoNL-Jumbo rider was the first to try and while he fought hard to get a gap, a big crash split the peloton. Borut Bozic (Cofidis), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Imanol Erviti and Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) were all involved and the latter unfortunately had to retire. Barguil had to chase hard to get back


Lots of attacks

A 10-rider group briefly got clear but after 11km of racing it was all back together. After many attacks came, a rider from Lotto Soudal got clear away together with a rider from LottoNL-Jumbo, but they were not successful in their endeavor. Then Ramūnas Navardauskas (Cannondale) and Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) tried but after 20km of racing, it was all back together again.


Ruben Plaza (Orica-Bike Exchange) was the next to try his hand but he was too dangerous for Astana who brought him back. Instead, Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), Tony Martin, Julien Vermote (Team Quick Step) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) made a move, and they fought hard to keep a lead of 5 seconds. Vegard Breen (Fortuno-Vital Concept) unsuccessfully tried to bridge across before Martin sat up, but Direct Energie shut it down.


Sagan and Majka are aggressive

Suddenly, the peloton was split in two groups into two in crosswinds, and Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) used the opportunity to attack. A 15-rider group was created but they were reeled in. Next a trio got clear and then a quintet but after 42km of racing, it was again back together.


Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) was the next to try his hand, and he was joined by Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) before they also had to give up. Then it was Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Cousin but after a Giant rider had joined them, they were back in the fold after a first hour with an average speed of no less than 51.8km/h.


The peloton explodes

Sagan tried again and created up a group of 25 riders, but it was too dangerous to let go. Then Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) Barguil, Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin) and Daryl Impey (Orica-Bike Exchange) took off and they had the day’s biggest lead of 15 seconds at the bottom of the first climb. Here Gougeard was dropped but the rest of the group was quickly brought back too too.


While Majka used the climb to attack, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Shane Archbold (Bora-Argon 18) and Gougeard were the first to get dropped Also Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal), Iljo Keisse (Team Quick Step), Alex Howes (Cannondale), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida) and Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data) fell off as the peloton exploded completely.


A break is formed

Majka was brought back and instead Tanel Kangert (Astana), Stef Clement (IAM), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) attacked. Majka and Sagan took off in pursuit and they bridged the gap quickly. Later Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) Jarlinson Pantano (IAM), Steve Morabito (FDJ), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) also made contact while seven riders and later Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) took off in pursuit. The peloton finally sat up and quickly let the gap grow to 1.20.


Costa joined the chase group that consisted of Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Julian Alaphilippe (Team Quick Step) and Ruben Plaza (Orica-Bike Exchange). At one point, they were 25 seconds behind but quickly lost ground. Further back Sky took control in the peloton which was now 3 minutes behind.


The chase group splits up

Majka was the first man at the top, followed by Sagan, while the chasers followed a minute later. The bunch reached the top with a time loss of 4.45.


The chase group was not cooperating well as Van Avermaet gave chase alone. Lutsenko was the first to join him and later Voeckler also made contact. While those three riders pressed on, the peloton almost came to a standstill and this allowed a regrouping to take place and while Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard hit the front, the gap went out to nine minutes by the time they hit the second climb with 85km to go.


More KOM points for Majka

As they went up the climb, the three nearest chasers reduced their deficit to just 45 seconds while Plaza was dropped from the second chase group. Later, Costa also lost contact. In the peloton, Tsgaby Grmay (Lampre-Merida) hit the deck but he was quickly back on his bike.


Kangert refused to work in the lead group and that created some confusion. However, Sagan took some huge turns, doing a strong work for Majka and so the gap had gone out to 10 minutes when Majka Pantano over the top of the climb. Voeckler, Lutsenko and Van Avermaet followed just 29 seconds later while Pauwels, Losada and Alaphilippe had lost 1.31.


The chasers make the junction

Sagan went full gas on the descent but Van Avermaet, Lutsenko and Voeckler managed to make it back before they hit the bottom of the descent with an advantage of 11.30 over the peloton. That was the signal for Rowe and Stannard to up the pace and as the bunch sped down the descent, the gap came down. Meanwhile, Shane Archbold (Bora-Argon 18) and Bozic hit the deck on the descent. Unfortunately, the latter had to withdraw.


The fast pace in the front group forced Rowe and Stannard to ride pretty hard in the peloton and they brought Plaza back as they entered the final 50km. However, there was no plan to bring the break back and as the peloton took a natural break, the gap went out to more than 12 minutes.


Costa was brought back with 40km to go before Sagan led Van Avermaet, Felillu, Clement and Lutsenko across the line in the intermediate sprint. The three chasers crossed the line four minutes later. Moments later, Majka led the front group onto the Col de la Forclaz where the finale started.



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