Romain Bardet finally gets his first stage win. The 24 year old Frenchman of AG2R, was in the breakaway for most of the stage before taking command 40kms to go. The rider has now made it Two Stage wins for France. The Frenchman has finished 15th and 6th overall in the 2013 and 2014 Tours and has been steadily moving up the General Classification. Despite attacks by his rivals, Froome and Geraint Thomas were able to reel in the challenges of their rivals who will no doubt attack from longer distances tomorrow.
The stage was 186.5kms long from Gap to Saint Jean-Du-Maurienne. It’s the second of the 4 days in the Alps with a total of 7 categorized climbs. Three Category 3, Three Category 2 and the biggest climb is a Hors Category climb atop the Col du Glandon. An intermediate sprint is at the 107km mark but none of the main sprinters are really going to even be in the points today. The King of the Mountains will be the most hotly contested jersey among the other riders as Froome will be watching Quintana and Valverde closely. Nibali and Contador would try to make attacks that might allow them to close the gap to the podium places.
Once again, a group of 29 riders were formed early on. This included stage winner Bardet and other notable inclusions were Andrew Talansky, Thomas Voeckler, Dan Martin, Ryder Hesjedal, Jaoquim Rodriguez, Thibaut Pinot and Michael Matthews. For the first time in the last 5 stages, Peter Sagan was unable to match the heroic performances he put in the last 4 stages. The Peloton led by Team Sky and Movistar were never far away with the gap reaching a maximum 5’35”.
In his bid to win the King of the Mountains Classification, Polka Dot Jersey wearer, Rodriguez took maximum points in the first 5 climbs which were Two Category 2 and Three Category 3 climbs (Chris Froome had been leading the King of the Mountains Classification but Rodriguez wore the Polka Dot Jersey owing to his second place and Froome’s first place overall). When the climb on the Col du Gandon began, the breakaway was reduced to 11. Thibaut Pinot was dropped from this group but replaced by Hesjedal. The bigger shock was to see Rodriguez cracking on the climb and gradually lost ground to the leaders.
4kms before the summit, Bardet was part of an acceleration and nearly crashed when Fuglsang took a tumble. However, the last 40kms belonged to the Frenchman who kept every challenge at bay. Only Pierre Rolland was able to close in on him, but it was too much to ask to reduce the deficit. Bardet was scarcely able ot believe his triumph when he crossed the line. He is now joint first in the King of the Mountains Classification and sits 11th Overall and is the best placed French rider.
Back at the Yellow Jersey group, Froome played defensive. He was watching Quintana and Valverde for attacks and was letting them chase down any attack made. Contador managed to break off with Warren Barguil, but they were caught up. In the end, there was no change between the Top 10 in the Overall Classification as the group finished together.
The Overall Classification Top 20
The Points Classification Top 20
The King of the Mountains Top 20
Stage 19 presents the riders with 4 climbs, including two category 1 and a Hors Category climb. Quintana who has promised to attack at every possible opportunity, will hope to finally overpower Froome on a climb. If there is any hope for Nibali and Contador? They need to make a long range attack. They need to make up time more than Quintana and Valverde but just are running out of stages. If they cannot close the gap tomorrow, they can be considered out of contention to win the Tour.