Rain and mountain descents made for a wild day at the Tour de France Friday, as Roman Bardet took the Stage 19 win and moved from fifth overall into second, Chris Froome crashed and finished, bloodied, on a teammate’s bike, and second-placed Bauke Mollema imploded while chasing back from a crash, losing any hope of a podium finish in Paris.
Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) claimed France’s first stage victory of the 2016 Tour, climbing to victory at the finish Saint-Gervais, the base of the famed Mont Blanc. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) led a group across the line 23 seconds later containing some — but not all — of the GC contenders.
Bardet attacked on the run-in to the final climb of the day, as rain-slicked roads saw many riders hit the deck including Froome (Team Sky). Froome would finish the stage on teammate Geraint Thomas’ bike.
“It’s ironic, I was just trying to stay up front and out of trouble, and I hit one of the white painted lines, and I lost my front wheel,” Froome said. “I’m okay. I’m lucky I’m not seriously injured. I lost a bit of skin, and I banged my knee, but this is the kind of day where I’m grateful to have a four-minute advantage to fall back on.”
Bardet was able to set his own pace on the climb and reel in the lone leader Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida). The Frenchman crossed the line smiling, a look of disbelief on his face.
“I’m over the moon,” Bardet said. “It’s beautiful to ride a bike instinctively. This attack was absolutely not planned. It’s been a flash in [Ag2r teammate] Mikaël Chérel’s mind. He said ‘let’s go flat out in the downhill.’ Climbing to the finishing line was pure emotions. I watched the public in the eyes and shared the emotions with the people. We’re humans and humans need emotions. I ran away from any kind of calculation today.”
Bardet finished more than 20 seconds ahead of his fellow rivals in the general classification and moved up to second overall, 4:11 behnd Froome, as Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) had a day to forget. The Dutchman crashed on the descent off the penultimate climb and struggled to rejoin the group containing all of the GC contenders. He would finish the stage 4:26 behind Bardet and drop to 10th overall.
Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Fabio Aru (Astana) were the biggest animators on the final climb to the finish. But Porte, who started the day ranked sixth overall, cracked in the final kilometre losing 27 seconds to Aru and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
“It’s almost an act of God, a miracle to be here at the finish today,” Quintana said. “I was feeling really bad. What is happening with my body is difficult to explain right now. We’ve fought a whole lot from the very start. I struggled a lot, and my teammates helped me out immensely, they were phenomenal. Thanks to them, I’m still here, on my bike. I feel tired, my body doesn’t work right, my legs don’t work properly. When I finish the stage, it’s like normal for me, but my body just doesn’t do things right. More than condition, I profited from my class today. Class never leaves you. At some point of the race, I even thought about withdrawing.”
The white jersey of Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) cracked also in the final kilometres and lost 30 seconds to Quintana on the stage, as well as his third place overall. Quintana now sits third overall, 16 seconds behind Bardet and 19 seconds ahead of Yates, who slid to fourth.
And while Porte moved into fifth overall, his gap from the podium grew, from 44 seconds behind Yates to 50 seconds behind Quintana.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Friday’s stage 19 represented the final summit finish of the 2016 Tour. The riders navigated a mountainous 146km (90.7mi) route from Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc. The Category 1 Côte des Amerands/Le Bettex (9.8km at 8%) finishing climb was sure to see attacks from the GC contenders.
“Today is a very tricky stage with a lot of tricky descents,” Froome said at the start. “There’s talk about thunderstorms during the race. It’s definitely going to have to be a stage where we stay right on our game. I think the main thing for me right now is to stay safe and away from any big incidents before Paris.”
A bit of foreshadowing, perhaps, as Froome would end up being involved in just one of several “big incidents” on the day.
The stage began with the Collet du Tamié (8.1km at 7%), but the race organizers did not categorize the climb. Lotto-Soudal was active at the front and attacked with multiple riders. The breakaway formed rather quickly and 20 riders found themselves in the lead.
The leaders were Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Robert Kiserlovski and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), Markus Burghardt and Amaël Moinard (BMC), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), Emmanuel Buchman (Bora-Argon 18), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange), Eduardo Sepulveda and Vegard Breen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept)
Team Astana grabbed the race by the horns and sent multiple riders off the front of the peloton on the opening Collet du Tamié. The team in the turquoise kits settled down a few kilometres later and set a hard tempo on the front of the peloton, though there was a bit of heated discussion between Diego Rosa and Andrei Grivko on how fast to ride.
De Gendt took maximum KOM points over the first two categorized climbs of the day, the Category 1 Col de la Forclaz de Montmin (9.8km at 6.9%) and the Category 2 Col de la Forclaz de Queige (5.6km at 7.8%). Majka rode over the climbs in second position, keeping a comfortable lead in the King of the Mountains classification.
The breakaway started penultimate climb, the hors categorie Montée de Bisanne (12.4km at 8.2%), with 84 kilometres to go in the stage and held three minutes over the Astana led peloton.
As the peloton approached the hors categorie climb a touch of wheels sent two riders tumbling to the ground. Double-stage winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) hit the deck, along with Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data).
The Giant rider got up holding his wrist, and though he took a spare bike, he abandoned the Tour a few of kilometres later with what would be revealed as a broken wrist — a heavy blow for the Dutchman, a favorite for the gold medal at the Olympic time trial in three weeks.
Kiserlovski set tempo on the front of the breakaway for Majka and the Polish rider was able to take maximum KOM points at the top of the climb, solidifying his position at the top of the King of the Mountains classification. Behind, Astana continued to lead the peloton.
The reduced peloton containing all of the GC favorites crested the Montée de Bisanne 1:45 behind the breakaway and Froome was seen riding at the back of the group. At the top of the climb, riders were grabbing rain jackets from their soigneurs on the side of the road, as it had begun to rain.
Rolland and Costa opened an advantage over their fellow breakaway companions on a small rise before the long the descent off the mountain. On the descent, Rolland crashed heavily on a tight left hand corner, sliding off the road. The Frenchman’s jersey was torn and covered in mud.
As the GC group navigated the corner where Rolland crashed, the Cannondale-Drapac rider remounted his bike. Rolland would finish the stage. Moments later Steve Morabito and Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ) also lost control of their bikes on the slick roads, as a steady rain had begun. Porte was held up by the two FDJ riders and found himself off the back chasing.
After a long chase Porte returned to the peloton with about 25 kilometres remaining in the stage. The newly paved road saw more riders crashing on the slick road, as the sun began to peek back through the clouds.
Mollema crashed on the descent and then the maillot jaune of Froome also went down in a separate crash. Froome’s bike was damaged in the crash, so he took the bike Thomas’ bike. He would rejoin the GC group just before the climb, but Mollema would never regain contact.
While chaos ensued with GC riders crashing, Bardet and his teammate, Mikaël Chérel, attacked off the front.
At the base of the finishing climb with less than 10 kilometres left in the stage Costa was the lone leader and held more than a minute advantage over the peloton containing the maillot jaune and 30 seconds over Bardet. Team Astana continued to set the pace at the front of the group.
Bardet made the junction to Costa with 7.5 kilometres to go, as Mollema was 1:25 behind the group containing all of the other GC favorites. He was on his own and was not only slipping off the podium, but out of the top-five overall.
With five kilometres to go the GC contenders were a mere 35 seconds behind the two leaders. Aru was down to a single teammate, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), as BMC Racing took over the pace making. Mollema was still more than a minute behind — he wasn’t losing more time, but he wasn’t making up ground either.
With less than three kilometres left in the stage, Bardet had distanced Costa and was riding towards France’s first stage win of the 2016 Tour.
In the GC group, Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) put in an acceleration which put Yates out the back. The young Briton was digging deep to keep his rivals in sight. Martin was brought back and Porte was next to attack with two kilometres to go. Quintana was quick to follow, but the other contenders neutralized the attack. Aru then counterattacked the move.
Up ahead, Bardet crossed the line with a smile a mile wide. The young rider claimed his second career stage win at the Tour de France and put himself in a position to stand on the final podium in Paris on Sunday
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) brought Aru back into the fold as the group rode under the red kite. His high pace dropped both Froome and Porte. Wout Poels (Team Sky) was able to pace Froome back into the group, while Porte was losing ground.
“I left a bit of skin out on the second descent,” Porte said. “I just crashed in the descent, quite a lot of guys did, but I think I was the first one down. I think it’s just a bit of skin missing, it’s one of those things. It was such a hard day and it was a mess out there in the final. I think everybody came down. I gave it my all today. The team were just amazing out there. The way they brought me back to the group after the crash and their work on the climbs was phenomenal.”
Chris Froome and Wout Poels (Team Sky), following stage 19 of the 2016 Tour de France. Photo JdM/PN/Cor Vos.
The GC group splintered in the final few hundred metres and Rodriguez and Valverde sprinted across the line to finish 23 seconds behind Bardet. Rodriguez, who is not fighting for a top GC position, later told journalists that he thought he was sprinting for the stage win, and only realized Bardet had won at 100 metres to go, when he saw the Frenchman on a big-screen TV.
“It wasn’t just a hard day, it was complete carnage, even more than previous stages,” Valverde said. “Before Froome and Mollema crashed, the race was already full on. Astana was pushing before those incidents and continued, which is normal. We couldn’t ride faster today. Froome had those problems, yet he’s still the strongest in this race and recovered. To be honest, I saw the stage win so close, however that attack by Bardet into the descent was courageous, hats off to him because the downhill was full of danger.”
Froome crossed the line 36 seconds down, on Thomas’s bike, with Porte a further 17 seconds back. Yates finished the stage 1:17 down on Bardet.
“It was great to have so many teammates up to the finish, Wout Poels in particular, but all the guys, it was a great team effort today,” Froome said. “It feels good to be one day closer to Paris. Today showed it’s not over until Paris, and I’m grateful I’m not seriously injured, it could have gone either way. There’s never a quiet day at the Tour de France. Tomorrow, it’s going to be really hard. I’m sure I’ll be sore and stiff. Hopefully I can rely on my teammates, it’s just one last push to get through tomorrow’s stage, and then on to Paris.”
The stage began with second place through sixth place on GC separated by 1:08 and finished with second through seventh place separated by 2:08. The final summit of the 2016 Tour provided a shake-up with Bardet and Quintana replacing Mollema and Yates on the podium with Froome, but it is still close with one stage in the mountains remaining.
Bauke Mollema (Trek Segafredo) dropped from second overall to tenth on stage 19 of the 2016 Tour de France, from Albertville to Saint-Gervais. Photo Davy Rietbergen/Dion Kerkhoffs/Cor Vos.
Yates, who holds a stable advantage in the Best Young Rider classification, is fourth overall and Porte is fifth. The BMC rider’s hopes of a podium finish will be tough, as the finish Friday is in the valley and not at the top of the final climb of this year’s Tour.
“I started to struggle in the Montée de Bisanne,” Yates said. “I managed to come across but I couldn’t follow at the end so I lost a bit of time. It’s my first bad day at the Tour de France, so I can be satisfied. I didn’t come to the race for riding GC and I’m fourth overall with the white jersey on my shoulders. It’s not that bad. Now I have to keep it till Paris.”
Aru sits sixth overall, six minutes behind Froome.
On Saturday, the riders traverse their final day in the mountains of this year’s Tour, going from Megève to Morzine-Avoriaz. The 146.5km (91mi) stage 19 tackles the hors categorie Col du Joux Plane before a fast descent to the finish.
Adam Yates fought hard through an aggressive and crash-marred finale, but has moved from third to fourth on the general classification. Yates still leads the best young rider category after giving absolutely everything as the attacks flew on the tough summit finish. Yates needed a bike change towards the finish of the stage, and was paced back to the favourites group by teammate.
“I lost some time today but it was definitely the hardest day of the last three weeks,” said Yates. “I think it was still a good performance, we are eleven seconds off third place and if an opportunity comes along to reclaim those seconds and get on the podium then certainly I will try to take it.”
“Like I’ve said throughout we’ve been racing day to day and the team have been fantastic the way we have competed everyday. Obviously I’m tired now but we will see what happens tomorrow.”
Sport director Matt White reiterated that the race is not over and there is another epic mountain stage to contend with tomorrow.
“For sure it was a hard stage today,” said White. “Everyone is tired and that’s normal towards the end of the Tour de France, but there is still a way to go and the race is far from over.”
“It’s going to come down to the last hour of racing on tomorrow's stage and I’m sure it will be a spectacular finale. We saw that the change in weather conditions played a part today and there are heavy storms predicted for tomorrow too.
“A lot will depend on who recovers well from today. There were quite a few guys involved in crashes and tiredness will no doubt be a factor. Either way it's going to be an exciting stage.”
This article is a modified version of that originally published on cyclingtips.com
Photography by Cor Vos