Stage 15 Givors to Mont Ventoux 242.5km
Stage 15 was the day we had been waiting for - Bastille Day, the longest stage of the Tour and a mountain top finish at the summit of Mt Ventoux. The wind was flat and it was predicted to be a high in the mid 30's for the day, which meant for the riders is that after 220km they would be climbing in the stinking heat. Perfect conditions for cracking, blowing and bonking. Simply carnage.
The break went after 2km once again, this time with Gilbert, who has had a very quiet year in his time with the World Championship colours, and Westra. There were various attempts to determine the composition of the break, including a move by Rolland that was repelled by those in the break when he was within touching distance. Soon the break was established with 10 riders: Sagan (CAN), Irizar, (RTL), Fedrigo and Roy (FDJ), Riblon (ALM), Losada (KAT), Chavanel (OPQ), Impey (OGE), Poels (VCD) and El Fares (SOJ) who stretched the lead out to over 6 minutes. The final break took a full hour to establish itself.
The race meandered along with a temporary truce. Europcar and Movistar did enough to work to keep the gap around the 3 to 4 minute mark. Close enough to know that it could be shutdown on the ascent up Ventoux.
Coming into Bedoin and Chavanel attacked the lead group. He was quickly out to a 10 second gap and now it was time for the break to implode. Meanwhile the peloton was under 2 minutes behind and closing fast.
As the peloton hit the start of the climb, the first casualties started going out the back including the polka dot jersey holder, Rolland and 3 riders from Sky. Froome was now down to 2 riders left (Kennaugh and Porte). It was about to get gnarly.
It was also getting gnarly in the commentary booth. I’m not sure how many of you get the Eurosport commentary but a particular bugbear for Carlton Kirby today were the spectators on the side of the road. With regularity he would have a little whinge about them being on the road though completely made up for it when, after a fully proportioned lady lumbered across the road in front of Chavanel, commented “my goodness a pink bus has just crossed in front of our lead rider, here”. Call of the Tour. Classic. (14.8km to go, look it up).
It was relatively steady at the base of the climb until with 13km to go Nieve attacked and soon after Quintana went as well. There was no reaction from the bunch as Kennaugh kept setting pace at the front. This was taking its toll at the back and Andy Schleck was out the back early on. He looked like he could barely stay upright on his bike, at one stage actually meandering off the road. His career is surely at the crossroads.
Then Cadelephant started to do the Cadel Dangle off the back of the lead group. The painfully slow slip off the back, get out out of the saddle and swing from side to side, giving you hope that he is going to get back on and then sitting back into the saddle, pulling his head in closer to his shoulders, turn white and eventually boom boom, good night nurse.
Porte then replaced Kennaugh at the front and did a turn for the ages. A lead group that had 10-15 riders was almost immediately decimated. Mollema and Ten Dam OUT THE AR$E, Kreuziger OUT THE AR$E, Dan Martin, Rodriguez, Talansky, Fuglsang….the best climbers in the world just pumped out the back by a ferocious turn. Soon it was only 3: Porte, Froome and Contador.
Then Porte pulled off and Froome started spinning the lights out and WHACK dropped the hammer on Contador. It was an attack that was from another planet, putting 100m into Contador in 10 seconds. Contador had no answer. The attack was more brutal than anything Contador had exacted on his adversaries in the past and he was at a loss, almost looking to Nieve as a life jacket. Porte, meanwhile, put a grin on his face and enjoyed the rest of the ascent.
Up front and Froome soon caught Quintana and again, attacked with amazing ferocity. Quintana, though, had a response and slowly bridged back up to his wheel. Froome was now going to have a hard time to get Quintana to work with him. And sure as right follows left, a conversation followed a long turn by Froome and they must have reached some agreement.
Quintana continued to look good and when he cracked with just over 1km to go it seemed inexplicable. Froome responded with a continuation of the sledgehammer pace Sky had exacted from the bottom of the climb, and by the end, the yellow jersey holder was crossing the line, the victor on the mythical Ventoux, with a lead of 30 seconds. A clinical victory.
Further down the mountain and the wreckage was out for all to see. Valverde was just dangling out the back of some group for almost the whole climb. Mollema looked like he had set up home in the hurt box. Contador, who actually shows real pain on his face, also showed it on the clock by coming in over a minute down.
An absolutely cracking stage that is sure to have massive implications of the leaderboard!