Sunday July 19
Mende to Valence
183km - 3418m elevation - 1 sprint - 4 KOM's
1st – Andre Greipel, Lotto Soudal
2nd – John Degenkolb, Giant - Alpecin
3rd – Alexander Kristoff, Team Katusha
General Classification – Chris Froome, Team Sky
King of the Mountains – Chris Froome, Team Sky
Sprint Competition – Peter Sagan, Tinkoff - Saxo
Best Young Rider – Nairo Quintana, Movistar
Most Aggressive Rider - Peter Sagan, Tinkoff - Saxo
Team Competition - Movistar
Gorilla power was on display again on Stage 15. Andre Greipel dominated the final sprint to win his third stage of the 2015 tour, and put himself back in contention for the green jersey.
A very large breakaway of 27 riders tried to push ahead at the start of today's stage. Team Katusha took the early responsibility of keeping them under control, hoping to set the finish up for their sprinter Alexander Kristoff, who has been largely unsighted this year. It looked as if they might just succeed, which forced a counter attack from nine other riders who would eventually form one of the strongest breakaway groups we have seen at the tour this year. Riders included Michael Rogers and Peter Sagan of Tinkoff - Saxo, Michael Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin of Etixx - Quick Step, Thibaut Pinot of FDJ, Lars Bak of Lotto Soudal, Adam Yates of Orica-GreenEDGE, Simon Geschke of Giant - Alpecin and Ryder Hesjedal of Cannondale - Garmin.
The strong breakaway group were driving the pace hard over the first hour, covering just over 47km. The peloton kept things close at a little over one minute, which caused some big names to drop off the back including Etixx - Quick Step hope Mark Cavendish. Cav's group was losing huge chunks of time, less then half way through the stage he was already five minutes down.
Two of the KOM opportunities for the day were passed through without fuss, the breakaway group determined to maintain their advantage and not upset their rhythm with needless attacks. Pinot crossed the Col du Bez first, with Rogers doing likewise on the Col de la Croix. It was then onto the descent for the breakaway, and their only job would be to hold on to Sagan's wheel. Trek Factory Racing's Bob Jungles described descending yesterday with Sagan as, "the craziest downhill in my entire life!"
Despite Sagan splitting the breakaway on the descent, they were all back together approaching the intermediate sprint. Sagan's team mate Rogers had punctured just prior, so the group sat up and waited for him to return. Once he did, Rogers went to the front and led out Sagan ensuring he would take maximum points on the sprint. Sagan now had a huge gap in the classification and looked good for a fourth consecutive green jersey in Paris.
It was an uneventful ascent up the Col de l'Escrinet. Despite being a category 2 climb, 7.9km in length and an average gradient of 5.8%, there were no attacks in the breakaway or the peloton. The breakaway rode an even tempo, and back in the peloton Team Katusha were still doing the bulk of the work, getting a small amount of assistance from Team Europcar.
On the descent Trentin broke away solo, but with the peloton closing in, his chances of a stage victory looked extremely slim. With 40km to go the peloton were back together aside from Trentin and Hesjedal, who had also tried his hand at an extended breakaway.
Team Europcar, Lotto Soudal and Team Katusha had started to turn up the heat with 33km remaining. The three teams sharing the pace making duties, which increased the speed to over 50kph. This sharp increase in pace brought the two riders back into the main group, and aside from the Cavendish group which was 12 minutes behind, it was gruppo compacto.
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With 10km to go the lead out trains were still biding their time, BMC Racing Team on the front and keeping van Garderen out of trouble. Rohan Dennis was doing a huge amount of work for the team, controlling the race until 6km to go. BMC Racing Team defended their position at the front of the race until 3.3km to go, at which point Stage 6 winner Zdenek Stybar of Etixx - Quick Step attacked. Hitting the peloton at 55kph, he quickly opened up a gap of almost 10 seconds. Team Katusha got organised with 2km to go and started chasing Stybar down.
Into the final kilometre and the race was back together. Team Katusha were still at the front, Kristoff sitting in third wheel, followed by Andre Greipel of Lotto Soudal, Sagan, John Degenkolb of Giant - Alpecin and Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEDGE.
With 500m to go Degenkolb tried to move up onto Greipel's wheel, squeezing out Sagan. But he was having none of it.
Greipel jumped with 300m to go, Degenkolb following his wheel and it was the two Germans fighting it out for the stage win. Degenkolb looked like he was coming around Greipel with his typical bobbing style sprint action, but ultimately he wouldn't have the legs. Instead of getting overrun, the Gorilla - who is on the form of his life - kept driving, holding off Degenkolb and the fast finishing Kristoff for the victory.
Greipel's brute strength at this year's tour has been phenomenal and resulted in three stage wins.