On a windy day in southern France the sprinters were once again foiled, missing out on yet another of a waning number of opportunities for a stage win. Instead it was Chris Froome and Peter Sagan who worked together in the closing kilometers, as the yellow and green jerseys stamped out any potential challenges from their respective rivals and opened a gap during the run to the finish line in Montpellier. In the process Froome gained a few more seconds on the other GC contenders, Sagan prevented any of the more traditional sprinters from narrowing the point gap, and we learned that no terrain will go uncontested in the 2016 Tour de France.
Arthur Vichot, wearing the tricolore of the French national champion, broke away and was quickly joined by Leigh Howard in the early kilometers of the race. The two stayed away over the first categorized climb, their lead up to two and a half minutes by the time Vichot and Howard crested the Cote de Minerve. They stayed away as well over the Cote de Villespassans, with Vichot taking the maximum points at both climbs, but the gap started dropping after that point and it seemed merely a matter of time until the duo off the front would be reeled back into the fold of the peloton. The winds were taking their toll not just on the breakaway but also the peloton itself, which began to fracture into echelons on the road to try to buffer some of the wind’s impact.
All the while, crashes and crosswinds continued to take their toll throughout the field. After several fits and starts, with the gap shrinking and expanding with each turn into or out of the wind, Vichot and Howard were finally caught a few kilometers before the intermediate sprint in Pezenas. Marcel Kittel fended off Sagan and Mark Cavendish at the sprint, while Sagan extended his lead at the top thanks to his second-place finish. A tailwind allowed for a large group of 81 riders that had fallen off the back from the peloton to reintegrate with the main field, and yet the attacks continued on the front.
About a dozen kilometers from the finish, Sagan made his decisive move. Recognizing the impact the wind would have on a potential sprint finish, the green jersey jumped out of the peloton with teammate Maciej Bodnar and opened up a small gap. Froome bridged up to the leaders, and soon a quartet had formed off the front once Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas linked up with the trio. They never gained more than 20 seconds on the main field, but as the four leaders charged into Montpellier they managed to maintain their lead all the way to the finish.
As they passed within 500 meters to go, Bodnar ramped up the speed to lead out the sprint. Sagan stayed on his teammates wheel until the final 200 meters or so, pulling out of Bodnar’s slipstream to the rider’s left and turning on the extra gear. Froome held on to the Slovak’s wheel but could find no more power to make a move around him, and Sagan emerged with his second stage win of the 2016 Tour after several years of winning the green jersey but never taking a stage.
Even had he not won the stage, though, Sagan has followed the same formula that has allowed him to finish with green in Paris each of the past three years. Targeting opportunities where other sprinters are either not as strong (such as in the medium mountains and on rolling stages) or are not as tactically savvy (such as when the winds start swirling and make it difficult to keep together long lead-out trains), Sagan consistently gets himself into position to secure points that other sprinters simply cannot snag.
Likewise, Froome has shown a propensity for chipping away at the rest of the GC contenders. His attacks are more varied in nature than someone like a Lance Armstrong, who basically turned the screws in the mountains and dared other riders to keep up. No, Froome is far more demoralizing to his rivals, as his style prevents any stage from being an “easy” stage for the GC riders. Through his willingness to contest even a few seconds’ time, Froome has positioned himself once again as the biggest threat for the overall in 2016.
For the sprinters such as Cavendish and Kittel, though, it was another opportunity lost. These cyclists are now forced to wait until Saturday and Stage 14, with Thursday’s ride finishing at the summit of Mont Ventoux and Friday featuring an individual time trial. Stage 14 between Montelimar and Villars-les-Dombes is the last relatively flat mass-start stage before the Alps, and after that only two potential opportunities remain for the speedsters in the bunch.
Stage Results and Standings after Stage 11
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||3:26:23|
|2||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky|
|3||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Tinkoff Team|
|4||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||+0:00:06|
|5||Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|6||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|7||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data|
|8||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal|
|9||Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling|
|10||Oliver Naesen (Bel) IAM Cycling|
General Classification (yellow jersey)
|1||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||52:34:37|
|2||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||+0:00:28|
|3||Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step||+0:00:31|
|4||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||+0:00:35|
|5||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo||+0:00:56|
|6||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|7||Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky|
|8||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||+0:01:13|
|9||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|10||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff Team||+0:01:28|
Points Classification (green jersey)
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||309|
|2||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data||219|
|3||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step||202|
|4||Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange||124|
|5||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||112|
|6||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie||112|
|7||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal||99|
|8||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||92|
|9||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||77|
|10||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||65|
King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey)
|1||Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ||80|
|2||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team||77|
|3||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||58|
|4||Rui Costa (Por) Lampre – Merida||50|
|5||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||36|
|6||Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||36|
|7||Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana Pro Team||27|
|8||Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team||26|
|9||George Bennett (NZl) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||23|
|10||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||22|
Best Young Rider (white jersey)
|1||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||52:35:05|
|2||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:01:42|
|3||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin||+0:02:35|
|4||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||+0:05:26|
|5||Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18||+0:09:35|
|6||Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||+0:17:44|
|7||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||+0:42:45|
|8||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18||+0:58:20|
|9||Jan Polanc (Slo) Lampre – Merida||+1:11:09|
|10||Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale-Drapac||+1:19:15|