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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, July 18, 2016

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Tour de France stage 15 news

Though today's stage had six categorized climbs, including the monster Grand Colombier, yellow jersey Christopher Froome spent the day basically unchallenged by the other GC contenders.

We've still got some brutal stages coming up in the final week, including Wednesday's Stage 17 finish at Finhaut-Emosson, followed by a timed hill-climb on Thursday and then two vertical days in the Alps. This race is hardly over.

Stage winner Jarlinson Pantano's IAM Cycling team had this to say:

The Feat: Accomplished by Jarlinson Pantano, who at 27 years old, has had the luxury of winning a stage in his second participation in the Tour de France, and gives Michel Thétaz, founder of the IAM Cycling team, an extremely prestigious victory.

Jarlinson Pantano: “I have a lot of respect for Majka, but I was ready to realize my dream.”

THE ANECDOTE: According to Rik Verbrugghe. “When Majka was 20 seconds ahead, I told Pantano over the radio, “Pais…for Colombia!”

THE EXPLANATION: Again, given by Jarlinson Pantano: “On the final descent, I just let myself go, and I was able to bridge back up to Majka. Then I just remained calm, even into the last kilometer. I had good legs. I was not too worried when Majka launched his sprint; I dove into his slipstream without any trouble. I was even able to lift my arms some meters from the line, and really savor this success. Even now, I am in the clouds.”

THE QUOTE: Yet again from Pantano: “I have to thank my team, my teammates, the staff and the sports manager who believed in me ever since last year, and told me that I have the qualities needed to win big races.”

Jarlinson pantano

Jarlinson Pantano wins stage 15

THE ANALYSIS:As given by Rik Verbrugghe. “This is a completely happy moment because we really did everything we could to win this stage. We have from the start of the Tour de France been in the breakaways because we knew there was basically no other way we would have a chance to win a stage. I am really happy for Jarlinson, but also for the entire team because we deserve it.”

THE EMOTION: Michel Thétaz’s. Present in the team car along with Rik Verbrugghe and Kjell Carlström, following the man of the day, the founder of the IAM Cycling team spoke from the heart when congratulating his team. “All victories this season have been very emotional for me, but this one has to be the peak. It gives me chills, and we are so happy for all the guys. They worked very hard and we are all thrilled. We dreamed of having success at the Tour de France for nearly three years. The first two attempts we have to leave empty handed. So this year we really put everything together that we possibly could in order to reach our goal. This is the culmination of a dream come true.”

THE PAYOFF: 11,000. In Euros, this is the amount of money that Jarlinson Pantano received after his victory in the 15th stage of the 2016 Tour de France.

THE MENU FOR THE DAY: The stage will finish in Bern after racing 209 kilometers from Moirans-en-Montagne, a town in the French Jura. First the peloton will have to travel through the French department of Doubs before crossing the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel from Verrières ahead of arriving in the Swiss capital, where a selective final can be expected.

Rafal Majka was second and took the polka-dot jersey. His Tinkoff team sent me this report:

It was a day for the climbers today – or more accurately – for Rafal Majka. The Polish national road champion exploded the Polka Dot Jersey contest, taking points on every single climb, including the full 25 points on the Hors Catégorie Grand Colombier. Just beaten to the stage win, Rafal took the Maillot à Pois and the day’s combativity prize, while Roman Kreuziger held on to 11th spot in the GC with a strong ride where he finished with the Yellow Jersey group.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka gets the dots

A fearsome sight greeted riders looking at the stage profile today. From start to finish, the parcours resembled the inside of a shark’s mouth, and the climbers could smell blood. Ten climbs were to be crossed, with six of these being categorised – the most fearsome being the Grand Colombier, summiting at 1,501m after a gruelling 12.8km, 6.8% climb. Today’s stage was to be a decisive one in how the King of the Mountains classification would unfold – and Rafal Majka had his eye on the prize.

Beginning the day 13 points off the jersey, Rafal was on the hunt for points. While breaks attempted to get away at the start of the day, Rafal measured his efforts and pushed ahead as the group was nearing the summit of the Col du Berthiand – taking all of the points on the top of the first category climb. This was a theme that was to continue for the rest of the stage, with Rafal riding strong at the front, taking points on all of the day’s climbs. As part of a group that managed to extend a strong advantage on the peloton, the Polish national road champion was the holder of the polka dot jersey on the road, scoring enough points to take the lead in the classification.

Nearing the top of the Grand Colombier, Rafal went off the front with one other and worked hard to take maximum points on the summit. Leading the peloton by a little over eight minutes, Rafal took all of the points at the top, before beginning the tricky descent leading to the Lacets du Grand Colombier. The Lacets were relentlessly steep, with their stunning hairpin bends bringing little respite from the hard climb – but in spite of the difficulty, Rafal’s duo still led the peloton by 6’30”. His blistering saw his companion struggling to hold on, before taking more points at the top – this time solo – before beginning the descent to the finish.

After dominating the stage, it was down to two riders to contest the stage win, having been joined by one of the chasers on the descent of the Lacets du Grand Colombier. While Rafal was strong, his companion had fresher legs and just beat him to the line. In spite of this, he pulled on the Maillot à Pois and took the day’s combativity prize.

Rafal gave it his all today, and gave an insight into his ride from the finish line. “I'm happy with my performance today - it's not easy to take the KOM jersey and win the stage. I wanted to take everything but in the end I didn't want to take too much risk in the descent – I crashed four days ago and am still suffering a bit in my arms with the vibrations in the road. I knew Pantano would be quick at the finish, but still I'm happy with my race today.”

Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, was thrilled with Rafal’s performance. “It was an excellent race from Rafa today. We were aiming for him to be in the break and he was there. He did a good job picking up the KOM points, then in the last climb he tried to drop Pantano, as we knew he had a fast finish. He did well and dropped him but never got a big gap. He made one mistake on the downhill where he lost some seconds and they came into the finish together where Pantano was faster, but really well done by Rafa. He's taken a good lead in the Polka Dot jersey – something that we've had an eye on after the rest day, and together with green this is something that we want to win here.”

While most of the attention was on the front of the race, Roman Kreuziger finished strongly – performing well on the last climb of the day, explained De Jongh. “Roman had a good day too and did a very good last climb where he looked very confident. He did a good job in following, which is what he had to do. We now hope that other opponents start to drop away like we saw some today. He showed he's strong still with a good TT, and he has some good opportunities ahead.”

With plenty of opportunities to come in the mountains, Rafal still had his eye on a stage win. “I wanted to win, like always at the Tour de France but it is not finished and I still hope to win a stage. Second and twice third, I'm quite happy and I'm happy that I now have the Polka Dot jersey back – it’s still a long Tour and I hope to keep this jersey. It won't be easy but I'm feeling strong.”

Peter Sagan finished safely within the time limit to keep his green jersey ahead of another stage where he could potentially pick up some more points tomorrow. A more gentle day lies ahead, with a 209km course that takes the Tour into Switzerland before the race’s second rest day in Berne. An undulating parcours with only one categorised climb, there’s a short and punchy 6.5% ramp before the finish that might trouble the pure sprinters, meaning the all-rounders have a strong chance of taking the win here, if a breakaway doesn’t get there before them. It’s a stage where anything can happen, so De Jongh was waiting to see how the day unfolded. “Tomorrow we have another chance for a breakaway, with a hard finish so we will see what happens.”

Here's what Chris Froome's Team Sky had to say about the day's racing:

Chris Froome and Team Sky emerged from a key day in the Jura mountains with their Tour de France lead firmly intact after stage 15.

Riding as a unit across a sprawling 160-kilometre test, the team proved more than equal to the task, ticking off six categorised climbs to ensure Froome retained all one minute and 47 seconds of his advantage. The day culminated with climbs up two different faces of Le Grand Colombier, with Wout Poels playing a starring role as he set a tempo to haul back moves from the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
Astana had pushed hard for Aru and blew apart the lead group, leaving Froome with just Mikel Nieve and Poels for support on the roads around Culoz.

That proved to be more than enough, and despite Nieve briefly coming down on the final descent, Froome was able to finish without issue among his GC peers.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome was escorted to the finish by his very strong teammates.

As expected there was a race within a race, with the stage win coming down to a battle between the 30 riders who pushed onward early in the day's break. Of those men it was Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) who prevailed, proving too strong for Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) in the home straight to take the biggest win of his career.

After the stage Froome admitted he'd been surprised at the relative lack of attacks on a day of heavy climbing, but was again full of praise for his teammates. "I am quite surprised," he said. "Today really was a stage that I expected Movistar in particular (to attack). With two guys in the breakaway I thought they'd be doing more in the final climb. I just got the feeling that everyone was so on the limit that no one really had the legs to make a big difference.

"I really am in such a privileged position to have such a strong team around me - possibly the strongest team that Team Sky have ever put in the Tour de France. Guys who would be leaders in other teams in their own right. Wout Poels is not just any other rider - he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of the greatest classics in the world. I'm so fortunate to be in this position."

A fast start out of Bourg-en-Bresse saw a large percentage of the peloton dropped amid the battle to make a potentially stage-winning break. Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Vasil Kiryienka were distanced early before rejoining the fray. Rowe and Stannard then combined to great effect, pacing the peloton all the way onto Le Grand Colombier.

Froome had no issues and came through the day in style, celebrating a week in yellow and retaining his advantage over nearest rival Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo).

Over at the Tour of Poland the conditions could not have been more different, with heavy rain causing the shortening and ultimately the cancellation of the stage six queen test.

BMC had this to report:

17 July, 2016, Culoz (FRA): Stage 15 of the Tour de France was tipped as one of the hardest of the race and it didn't disappoint with the six categorized climbs testing the legs on a hot and fast day of racing.

A double ascent of Grand Colombier capped off the 159km stage which saw Richie Porte battle it out in the Yellow Jersey group and cross the line with his main General Classification rivals.

Tejay van Garderen was in the mix of the group until he was distanced on the final ascent before the run into the finish in Culoz.

Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) went head to head with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) in a sprint to the line, taking the win ahead of Majka and Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2T La Mondiale).

Porte now sits in seventh on the General Classification and van Garderen in eighth, 4'27" and 4'47" behind Chris Froome (Team SKY) respectively.

Richie Porte

Richie Porte heads for home. I think that's Nairo Quintana on his wheel

Richie Porte: "To be honest I think everyone is just on their limits and couldn't do much. It was a hard day and it's just good to get it done. If you could have attacked there you would have. The pace was on pretty much all day and that descent was quite sketchy too. I think for me it's just nice to come through that one unscathed. We'll get through tomorrow and then into the rest day and then it's every man for himself really in that last week. When it looked Quintana was going to attack he [Froome] threw a little dummy attack in and that just quietened everybody down. We'll just see what happens in the next few days."

"It wasn't so bad the last time up it [Grand Colombier] but that second to last time, everybody was on their limit. Especially when Diego Rosa did his turn I think that put quite a lot of guys' days to an end. I'm happy to come through that like I did. At the best of time that's a sketchy descent but when the road is melting and there's loose gravel and surface it's not so nice. It's just one of those elements of a race."

Tejay van Garderen: "I wasn't really thinking anything [when Romain Bardet attacked]. 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."

Michael Schär: "I think it was one of the toughest days with all of the up and down. There was not one meter flat pretty much. The start was of course the crucial factor and 30 guys went away and we knew that they would have a big chance for the stage win. Unfortunately there was nobody in for us, so then we switched our goal and focused on GC with Richie and Tejay. Tejay lost some time, Richie was up there but I think there is still a very tough last week coming and there are chances to crawl slowly up the standing and come onto the podium in Paris."

LottoNL-Jumbo sent me their Tour report:

George Bennett escaped again in the Tour de France today through the Jura Mountains, but could not match the pace of Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) and Rafael Majka (Tinkoff). Pantano won the day, but at least Bennett made the right move.

“Shortly after the start, I felt good in the battle for the leading group,” Bennett said. “After 100 kilometres, though, it began to hurt. My body did not feel good and I felt very tired. I am very disappointed that I could not follow those men. Maybe it also had to do with my crash in the 11th stage, but that doesn’t make it less disappointing."

"I have respect for what he showed us today because when the peloton broke on the climb, the best 30 cyclists moved free,” Sports Director Merijn Zeeman added. "We designated two riders for the break. Kelderman tried it and exploded afterwards, Bennett managed though. On the first category climb, we saw that Bennett could not follow the best 12 riders and was empty.”

Another goal was to have Dylan Groenewegen finish within the time limit. "We are lucky he succeeded. It was even more exciting when he got stuck behind the gruppetto, but thanks to Vanmarcke, he was able to return and finish in the group with the other sprinters,” added Zeeman. "Groenewegen was completely empty. I have great respect for his perseverance.”

“I waited for him,” Vanmarcke added. “I paced him on my rear wheel and on the next descent, we almost managed to return. Eventually, we made contact with the group with Cavendish and rode to the finish."

"Today was one of the toughest days and I'm glad I survived,” said Groenewegen. “At one point, I thought it really was over, but Vanmarcke waited and encouraged me."

Tomorrow: The finish in to Bern, Switzerland, tomorrow is not guaranteed to end in a sprint. "It depends on what the sprinters’ teams want,” Zeeman added. “But if there is a leading group on road, we have to be there."

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