Colombia’s Jarlinson Pantano out-sprinted Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) at the Tour de France Sunday to take a stellar victory for his IAM Cycling team, which is disbanding at the end of the season. Panatano and Majka were part of the original day’s breakaway, with the latter cresting the final climb of the day with less than 15km to go alone, but unable to hold off the dare-devil descending Colombian.
Pantano bridged to the Polish rider and then out-sprinted him at the finish in Culoz, even after he was forced to lead out the race to the line. Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale) got the better of Sébastien Reichenbach (FDJ) at the finish to take third on the stage, six seconds off the winning time.
“This is incredible,” Pantano said after the stage. “It’s a dream come true. I came to the Tour de France for that, but I didn’t believe it could happen. I’m very happy. I’ve done it thanks to my teammates. I dedicate this victory to my wife and my team captain Mathias Frank who had to pull out because he was sick.”
The mountainous stage lacked fireworks in the battle for the overall classification with most of the general classification contenders crossing the finish together more than three minutes after the winner. There was one loser on the day, American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), who suffered up the final climb of the day, the Lacets du Grand Colombier. He fought all the way to the finish in the valley below, but ultimately conceded 1:28 to the other GC contenders and dropped from sixth to eighth overall.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) retained his 1:47 lead over Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) in the overall, with Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) in third, 2:45 back, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in fourth, 2:59 behind.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Tour entered the Alps on Sunday with a demanding 160km (100mi) stage from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz. The stage 15 parcours included six categorized climbs and 4,080m (13,385ft) of climbing with the hors categorie Grand Colombier (12.8km at 6.8%). After Froome put considerable time into the other GC contenders in Friday’s individual time trial, attacks from his rivals seemed imminent.
The riders began going uphill from the start with a few uncategorized climbs to get over before the Category 1 Berthiand (6km at 8.1%), which topped out a mere 23km into the stage. King of the Mountains classification leader Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) was active early on, but he would ultimately pay for those efforts and miss the breakaway.
Majka and Illnur Zakarin (Katusha) crested the opening climb in the lead with the former taking maximum KOM points. The points moved the Polish rider within three points of De Gendt in the battle for the polka-dot jersey.
A chase group of 26 riders made the junction to the leading duo on the descent and the peloton eased off the gas to allow the breakaway to build an advantage.
The riders who joined the leading duo were Jon Izagirre and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali and Tanel Kangert (Astana), Domenico Pozzovivo and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek-Segafredo), Stef Clement, Jérôme Coppel and Jarlinson Pantano (IAM), Pierre Rolland, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Steve Morabito and Sébastien Reichenbach (FDJ), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18), Alberto Losada and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Kristjian Durasek, Tsgabu Grmay and Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida), Romain Sicard and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Dani Navarro (Cofidis) and Ruben Plaza (Orica-BikeExchange).
The cooperation in the breakaway dissolved with less than 80km remaining on the uncategorized Col de Richemond when Van Baarle attacked. Dumoulin soon bridged to, and then dropped, the Cannondale-Drapac rider. Nibali was also attacking, trying to team up with Dumoulin before the climb of the Grand Colombier.
A leading quartet of Dumoulin, Nibali, Pantano, and Pozzovivo started the hors categorie Grand Colombier (12.8km at 6.8%) with 60km to go, holding an advantage of over eight minutes over the Team Sky led peloton. However, they only held a mere 15 seconds over the rest of the breakaway riders.
The lower slopes of the Colombier saw the breakaway split to pieces and the leading quartet was brought back into the fold.
Majka and Zakarin, the two riders who initiated the original breakaway move, opened a gap over the others less than 5km from the summit. The peloton continued to ride a steady tempo lower on the climb, slowly thinning down to the most elite climbers in the race.
When the peloton rode past the 5km to the summit of the Colombier marker only 37 riders remained in the group, though Froome still had five teammates to support him.
Majka took maximum KOM points over the top of the hors categorie climb and the Tinkoff rider had begun to open a considerable lead in the King of the Mountains classification. Alaphilippe attacked out of the group chasing the leading duo and crested the climb in third position, 29 seconds behind. The Frenchman was soon joined by Pantano on the beginning of the descent.
Tanel Kangert and Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana) took up the head of the peloton and set a fierce tempo, putting even more riders in difficulty, including Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin). The peloton rode hard up the Grand Colombier and crested the top with no attacks coming from the GC contenders. They were 7:45 behind the four leaders, as Alaphilippe and Pantano had bridged to Zakarin and Majka on the descent.
Alaphilippe took risks on the descent and managed to open a gap, however he dropped his chain, several times, and soon found himself over 90 seconds behind the leaders. Majka and Pantano moved into the lead, as Zakarin took the descent a little slower than the others and was dropped. The Russian was in a chasing group containing Pauwels, Vuillermoz, and Reichenbach.
After the descent of the Grand Colombier, the riders rode through the finish line in Culoz, but still had 23.5km remaining in the stage including the hairpin turns of the Category 1 Lacets du Grand Colombier (8.4kmat 7.6%). Majka and Pantano held nearly a minute over the chase group containing Zakarin with Alaphilippe, who continued to ride aggressively to try to rejoin the leaders, just under two minutes behind.
Astana led the peloton, which contained less than 20 riders, across the line 6:55 behind the leading duo.
Fabio Aru (Astana) attacked when the GC contenders hit the final climb, and after a moment’s hesitation Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) bridged to the Sardinian. Wout Poels (Team Sky) rode a steady tempo on the front of the group and reeled in the two attackers.
Meanwhile in the lead, Majka dispatched Pantano, and the winner of the polka-dot jersey in 2014 crested the climb with a 23 second advantage over Pantano and Reichenbach, who had bridged to the IAM rider.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) attacked the GC group to no reaction from the others, but the acceleration caused Poels to increase the tempo on the front of the group, putting van Garderen in trouble.
“I wasn’t really thinking anything [when Romain Bardet attacked],” Van Garderen said. “I was in my own world just trying to hold the wheel in front of me but I couldn’t hold it. To be honest I felt fine, just the pace was pretty incredible. I can’t say that it was bad sensations it was just above the level that I had on the day. Anything can happen. Once you get into the third week of a Grand Tour it’s like Russian Roulette, it could be anyone’s day.”
Poels kept a high pace in the GC group, and the Dutchman was able to reel in Bardet at the top of the climb.
Majka came into one of the hairpins a bit too fast on the descent and made a brief excursion into the grass. He was quickly back on the road and up to speed again, but Pantano, who had dropped Reichenbach, was closing fast. The Colombian made the junction to Majka with less than 9km left in the stage.
Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) crashed out of the GC group on the descent, on a similar hairpin that caught out Majka, but he would remount his bike and finish the stage.
Pantano and Majka began watching each other inside the final kilometre with the former forced to lead out the sprint. Vuillermoz caught Reichenbach on the descent, but the two chasers would run out of road to catch the leaders.
Majka opened the sprint and initially passed Panatao, but the second-year WorldTour rider found a second kick and took the victory. Vuillermoz beat Reichenback for third on the stage.
“It was close,” Vuillermoz said.”At the passage at Grand Colombier, I reached the top with Pantano and Reichenbach and I lost touch in the descent. Behind we worked well, we rode a good ascent with Reichenbach. I came back within five or ten seconds. I decided to join forces with Sebastian in the finale and then we finished four seconds back. It’s frustrating.”
Alaphilippe, who finished fifth on the stage, 22 seconds down, was in tears afterward, left to wonder what might’ve been.
“I was feeling strong today and was very motivated,” Alaphilippe said. “Tactically, we did a perfect race. After surviving on the Grand Colombier, my confidence grew and I began to believe in a strong result. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on my side and on the descent I had that mechanical and my race was basically over. My chain was stuck in the back gear, so I had to stop, because I couldn’t pedal anymore, and wait for the team car. I’m not saying that I would have won, but I’m convinced I could have fought for victory today.”
Poels led home the GC contenders, minus Van Garderen, who would finish the stage nearly 90 seconds down the maillot jaune group and drop to eighth overall. He now sits 4:47 behind Froome, and dropped below his teammate Richie Porte, who is seventh overall, 4:27 behind.
Bardet benefitted the most from Van Garderen’s bad day, moving into sixth overall. “I tried because these are roads I know well, that I love, and I thought it could make a difference,” he said. “Against a group with three Team Sky riders it was not necessarily a good idea. I was expecting some support and it didn’t come. I finally decided to give up. Movistar have a precise strategy for the third week and they don’t want to give it away too early. Everyone has their own tactics. Today was a terrain I really like, with a winding descent and a climb on which I have good sensations. Since the start of the Tour I have been riding against nature, waiting for my time to come. I sort of rallied today.”
Froome retained his lead in the general classification with Van Garderen dropping a couple of places the only change in the top 10.
“This morning I expected more attacks to come from my rivals,” Froome said. “During the race I expected them from Movistar in particular because they had two strong guys in the breakaway. Valverde had a go when Aru made his move. Obviously Bardet tried his move at the top, but I had the feeling that no one had the legs to make a difference. Earlier up the hill I wanted to see the state of play. I accelerated to know who would follow me and I saw Nairo Quintana on my wheel quite quickly. I wanted to know who’d be likely to move near the top of the Grand Colombier.
“Coming to the Tour, I said I was in a very privileged position because it was the strongest team that Team Sky ever sent to the Tour. With me, I have riders who would be leaders in other teams. Wout Poels is the Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner. I’m so grateful and fortunate to have teammates like him. It’s demoralizing for my adversaries to see him and my other team-mates neutralizing their attacks so they seem happy to stay in my wheel. Maybe they think more to the Alps. For now I’m happy. I’m in a better situation than I expected at this point.”
Yates remains the white jersey of Best Young Rider, leading South Africa’s Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) by 3:03. “There was no flat in the entire race,” Yates said. “It wasn’t easy. The hardest part for me was the last climb when Bardet attacked. He went full gas and put me at the limit. I didn’t feel great that I could attack and gain some time, but it wasn’t too bad. We’re still here.”
Majka moved into the lead of the King of the Mountains classification and holds a 37 point advantage over De Gendt.
“I thought I could win the stage today, but at the end I didn’t,” Majka said. “I would have won if the finish was at the top [of Grand Colombier]. Four days ago I crashed, and my arm is still in pain so I didn’t want to take too many risks downhill. I wanted to win my fourth Tour de France stag, but it’s not finished. I might have more opportunities in the Alps. I’m happy to be back in the polka dot jersey. I’ll try to keep it.”
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) leads the points classification over Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), 340 points to 278.
The rider they call “Spartacus,” Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), will have extra motivation on Monday, as the Tour visits his hometown of Berne, Switzerland for the first time. The 209km (130mi) stage 16 from the French town of Moirans-en-Montagne to Berne has a tricky finish with a 600m climb at 6.5% before a flat final kilometre.
• Jesus Herrada (Movistar) abandoned the race with sickness
• Cannondale-Drapac put a rider in the top-10 of a stage for the first time at this year’s Tour, as Pierre Rolland finished in seventh place
White jersey Adam Yates rode beyond his years on the brutal 160km stage 15, finishing in 21st place on the day and retaining third on the general classification. 23-year-old Yates matched every move within the favourites group as the top ten all crossed the line together.
Sport director Matt White was content with how the stage unfolded for ORICA-BikeExchange.
“We wanted to get someone in the breakaway today,” said White. “It is always a good idea to have somebody up there and Ruben (Plaza) had good legs and did well before coming back to support Adam (Yates) in the final kilometres.”
“It was another measured and consistent ride from Adam today, we knew that it probably wasn’t going to be a day of big upheavals on the general classification and Adam managed his efforts very well.
“Tomorrow could be interesting because the outcome will depend on how the sprinter's teams are able to control the stage, its going to be a long, tough day and it is not a straight forward finish for the pure sprinter.”
This article is a modified version of that originally published on cyclingtips.com
Photography by Cor Vos