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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true. - Julius Caesar

Current racing:

Latest completed racing:

Tour de France Stage 16 reports

We posted the organizer's stage 16 report with the stage results.

Julian Alaphilippe wins the stage, Philippe Gilbert crashes out of Tour

Here's the report from Team Quick-Step:

An imperious Julian Alaphilippe produced another magnificent performance as he overcome a nervous stage, peppered with road incidents, three hard climbs and some stomach-twisting descents on his way to another impressive victory at the current Quick-Step Floors, which came with a well-deserved bonus: an increased margin in the mountain classification, with just two tough stages left between here and Paris.

"Today it was a really crazy day. I had pain in the legs, but I don't think I was the only one suffering. I knew the finale, with the climb and the downhill, but I still can't believe that I won again. Taking two victories, one in the Alps and another one in the Pyrenees, is mind-blowing, I will never forget this day", an elated Julian said after another stunning ride.

Attacks came thick and fast in the first two hours of the 218km stage 16, when the peloton raced à bloc, preventing any moves from sticking in the first 100 kilometers. Once the peloton decided to take the foot off the gas, 47 riders went clear and put more than ten minutes between them and the pack, Quick-Step Floors being represented at the front by Philippe Gilbert and stage 10 winner Julian Alaphilippe, shining in his beautiful polka dot jersey.

Philippe Gilbert was set to play an important role in the service of his French teammate, and for that very reason, the 36-year-old attacked on a downhill section taking to the foot of Col de Portet-d'Aspet, which was making its 33rd appearance in the race. The former World Champion dully stretched out the gap to a minute over his former breakaway companions, cresting the summit of this legendary climb in the lead, a feat no other Belgian had managed in the past 58 years.

On the tricky descent, Philippe tried to maintain his advantage, but on a tricky left-hand corner he went over the wall and crashed into a small ravine. Fortunately, with some help, he climbed out and after being attended by the medical team and sports director Brian Holm, Gilbert decided to continue the stage at his own pace, which saw him being reabsorbed by the peloton.

At the front, attacks ensued on the famous Col de Menté, but despite the numerous skirmishes, Alaphilippe remained calm and made his move only inside the final 500 meters, dancing clear of his opponents to claim maximum points on the climb made famous at the 1971 edition. In the valley, the 17 men left in the main group continued to work together, but things soon changed, on Col du Portillon, an ascent whose Tour de France debut was recorded six decades ago.

After attacking inside the last four kilometers of the climb, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) looked to be in prime position to take the win, but Julian knew the race isn't over until it's over and jumped from the chasing group, getting out of the saddle and reducing the Brit's margin by the top of the climb, before showing endless guts as he started a mad pursuit on the sinuous downhill.

Seeing Julian Alaphilippe tucked over the Specialized Tarmac which carried him to victory in Le Grand-Bornand last week use the mad descending skills he possesses on the descent to Bagnères-de-Luchon was like listening to Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" on any given evening, pure joy. The 26-year-old halved Yates' advantage until with seven kilometers to go, when the Brit made a mistake in a corner, crashing and leaving in the lead Alaphilippe, who soared to his seventh victory of the season, by far the most successful since turning pro with Quick-Step Floors.

"The last 20 kilometers were very intense, with a lot of attacks and cat-and-mouse game in the escape. When I got word that Yates opened a half a minute gap, I decided to attack and managed to pull him back to ten seconds by the time he crashed. It's never nice when this happens to someone, and I waited for him, but then I saw he was hesitating a bit, so I continued my race. Getting the victory in this town which is inextricably linked to the Tour is incredible, I would have never thought of this, and it makes me really proud to be on the top spot of the podium.

Julian Alaphilippe wins stage 16

Julian Alaphilippe wins stage sixteen.

"The race and fight for the KOM aren't over yet, but I am very motivated and confident", explained after Quick-Step Floors' 51st win of the season Julian, who referred also to the incident in which Philippe Gilbert was involved.

"Seeing his bike on the ground I got a bit scared, so I slowed down on the descent. It's a real pity he crashed and is now out of the Tour. He's been a huge helper for the team during the race and he deserves a lot of credit for the role played in our success."

Unfortunately, further examination at the Toulouse hospital revealed that Gilbert had suffered a fracture on the lateral pole of his left patella, a blow to the Belgian's hopes of completing the Tour de France: "First of all, I want to say that I'm happy to be here after that tough moment. I landed pretty hard on some stones, and initially didn't want to move, but someone from Mavic came and helped me stand up and crawl back from that ravine. This isn't how I wanted to finish my Tour and leaving it like this really hurts", said Philippe, who was rewarded for his amazing effort with the most combative rider prize, which he got for the third time in his career.

Gilbert's crash on the treacherous descent of Col de Portet-d'Aspet was the second setback of a bittersweet day for Quick-Step Floors, after the abandon of Tour de France debutant Tim Declercq. "El Tractor" was one of the unsung heroes of the race and a vital helper for the team, but was forced to call it a day due to illness, just five stages from Paris.

Back at the hotel, Tim talked of how painful was to leave the biggest race in the world with 500 kilometers left to be completed: "I am very disappointed, because this race has been an amazing experience up until now. Racing here and being part of this amazing team was really great. I felt ill on the rest day, but I was hoping to get through this stage, so that's why I struggled in the first part, as I wanted to see if I could go all the way to the end. I am happy for Julian, but at the same time sad to see also Philippe leaving the Tour. I want to wish the guys all the best for the last stages, I know they are motivated to get some more nice results."

The race will continue on Tuesday with a short but intense 65km-long stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan, which Julian Alaphilippe will start with a 49-point advantage over his closest rival in the KOM classification. Following his successful raid in the Pyrenees, the Frenchman has made a significant jump in the overall standings, where teammate Bob Jungels continues to rest in 12th place.

GC leaders Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome's Team Sky posted this update:

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome maintained their first and second positions overall as Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) won stage 16 of the Tour de France.

Thomas and Froome were well-protected on a 218km test to Bagnères-de-Luchon which saw the threat to the Team Sky pair controlled on a tumultuous opening stage in the Pyrenees.

Luke Rowe and Jonathan Castroviejo pulled on the front of the peloton to deter attacks for the majority of the stage, with Wout Poels, Egan Bernal and Michal Kwiatkowski combining on the ascent and descent of the final climb to ensure there were no changes at the top.

Earlier, a fast and furious start ensued to establish the break, until a protest by farmers halted the stage as hay bales were thrown onto the road. Police were quick to deal with the issue, but in doing so used a spray to control the protesters which was in turn blown back into the peloton causing the race to be neutralised to allow the riders time to recover.   

After a brief hiatus, more battling ensued to secure a breakaway which eventually formed with 100 kilometres remaining, with 44 riders escaping - none a significant threat to Thomas’ maillot jaune. 

Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas

Chris Froome and Geraint thomas speed down the Portillon. Sirotti photo.

Reflecting on the eventful stage, Thomas said: “We were expecting fireworks and a lot of attacks, but they didn’t really materialise and obviously on the final climb there were a few and the boys were strong, we managed to control that and the final descent. Everyone rode really strongly and in a way it was good that the break took a while to go as it meant Luke [Rowe] didn’t have to ride as long on the front.  

“The team are riding really well and we’re buzzing off each other. It’s good at the moment.”

Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford was pleased with his team’s efforts on what could have been a difficult day. He said: “I was really pleased with how the whole team rode today. It was a long, tough stage but we managed the race well from the start. Obviously today posed new challenges and highlighted once again the vital issue of rider safety. This is obviously not just a Team Sky but a peloton wide issue as Nibali’s unfortunate crash on Alpe d’Huez last week demonstrated. Today was obviously uniquely challenging for the police and we massively appreciate the job they are doing - it is not an easy one.”

Froome was pleased to emerge from the stage in good shape after Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) suffered tough crashes on the day’s tricky descents. He said: “We heard about Gilbert’s crash when he was upfront alone and then about Yates’ crash too and it was just a heads-up to everyone else around us to take it easy - it’s a bike race at the end of the day, it’s not worth risking our lives for.”

Thomas and the team are already looking ahead to the 65km stage 17 which features three climbs, including a final unclassified ascent billed as one of the toughest in this year’s Tour de France. He added:  “It’s a crazy day with so much climbing in a short space of time. I think we can expect attacks, maybe from the gun. It would be a bit daring to go that soon though as it’s a really demanding day and the last climb is super hard, maybe the hardest of the Tour, but we’re expecting the worst.”

And Brailsford is also looking forward to the Pyrenean tests. He added: “There are some exciting days of racing ahead of us as we enter the Pyrenees. Some of my previous comments about fan conduct and rider safety have been misinterpreted as an attack on all French fans. That was never my intention. I am sure the fair-minded majority feel exactly the same way as I do about the extreme behaviour of a handful of people at the race.

“The Tour attracts some of the best sports fans from both France and all around the world. The beauty of this race is its open nature where fans can get close to the riders. But with that right has to come a measure of responsibility.

"I was pleased to see the ASO announce that they have banned flares. In the days ahead, we all hope that all fans give the athletes the space to race safely and enjoy the racing as a result."

Damiano Caruso's BMC team sent me this:

24 July, 2018, Bagnères-de-Luchon (FRA): The Tour de France began the home stretch on stage 16 today with BMC Racing Team sending three riders up the road after a chaotic start to day one in the Pyrenees before Damiano Caruso dug deep on a tough finale to finish just outside the top ten.

A fast start saw various attacks off the front of the bunch in the opening kilometers of the day which started on gentler terrain as the first half of stage 16 featured just two category four climbs, the Côte de Fanjeaux and the Côte de Pamiers.

A protest around 30km into the 218km course saw the race come to an abrupt halt but eventually, after order was resumed, the peloton rolled out once again and the flag was dropped with just over 185km to go

Stefan Küng was one of the first to make a move after the race restarted and he forced a four-rider group to go clear. But, the peloton reacted quickly to bring the race back together and this pattern of racing continued until the 100km mark. BMC Racing Team continued to be active at the front and so, when a large group of 47 riders, around one third of those left in the race, began to extend a solid advantage, Caruso, Greg Van Avermaet and Tejay van Garderen all made the cut.

The gap between the breakaway and the rest of the field was sitting at over six minutes with 90km to go and it only extended further approaching the bottom of the category two Col de Portet d'Aspet which was quickly followed by the Col de Menté and Col du Portillon, both category one climbs.

At the summit of the first of the three successive climbs, with 62.5km to go, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) had opened up a one-minute advantage over the rest of the breakaway but on the tricky descent, a nasty crash saw him caught and passed.

Caruso, who had previously tried to split the breakaway, attacked to lead the race going onto the penultimate 6.9km long climb alongside Robert Gesink (Team Lotto-NLJumbo) while behind, Van Avermaet and van Garderen lost contact with the first chasing group after an increase in pace saw riders bridge across to the leading duo.

At the beginning of the Col du Portillon, the front group was now 17 riders strong with the first chasing group, including Van Avermaet, 1'40" behind and the reduced peloton 10 minutes back. The 8.3km ascent, which had an average gradient of 7.1%, provided a tough final test and saw Caruso stay focused as he set his own tempo behind the attacks of his rivals.

In the end, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT) went over the top of the climb as the solo leader and with just 10km to go, it looked like he might hold onto his advantage. However, a crash on a corner saw Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) move into pole position before taking the win ahead of Gorka Izaguirre (Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team) and Yates.

Caruso showed his determination by battling hard in the closing moments of the stage to cross the line in 11th place, 1'18" behind Alaphilippe, which saw him move up into 16th on the General Classification. Van Avermaet finished inside the top twenty around 5'20" behind the stage winner after a third consecutive stage in the breakaway and he now sits 17th overall going into tomorrow's 65km stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan, Col du Portet.

Quotes From the Finish Line:

Damiano Caruso:
"The first part of today's stage was really incredible because over the first two hours we were really going full gas and sometimes it's difficult to find the right combination for the breakaway. At the end, we went after 100km but I was already tired when we went clear. Then, on the last climb I was really tired and I tried to keep my own tempo until the finish. I am not really satisfied with the result but I can be honest about it and I gave it my all today so, I cannot ask for more. Maybe I can try again at the end of the week."

Greg Van Avermaet:
"It was a hard day again. Guys were always trying to attack to get into the breakaway and in the end, Tejay and Damiano were in there too which was good. I was also good but every stage is just a little bit too hard. I just tried to do my own tempo and I am catching up on the GC which is not really a goal. It was pretty dangerous at some points and we saw Gilbert go down and also Barguil. This can happen when you take risks and I hope it's not too bad for them and that they are back on the bike tomorrow. I think tomorrow is going to be different stage. There's going to be no chance to get in the break. It's just going to be suffering from start to finish."

Greg van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet races down the Portillon. Sirotti photo

"I wasn't affected by the incident as I was in the first ten positions of the group but I heard that some guys had some problems so, it was a good decision to stop and wait and bring everything together. Once we knew everything was fine, the race restarted and I think the organization did a good job by neutralizing the race and getting it started again."

And Bora-hansgrohe sent me this report:

After racing hard for two weeks, BORA-hansgrohe made the most of every minute of the second and final rest day. Back on the road today, it was clear that the team was ready to race, with repeated attacks from Rafał Majka before Marcus Burghardt and Gregor Mühlberger jumped in the day’s break. Working hard to stay in touch on the stage’s difficult final climb, the Austrian rider finished the day in eighth to show he was ready for the coming days in the Pyrenees. Riding in the Maillot Vert for the 100th day, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, finished safely having saved his energy for the coming tough mountain stages.

The Stage
Even with a rest day beforehand, a 218km mountain stage is always going to be hard. While the day would start on two relatively easy fourth category climbs, the parcours would become progressively more difficult as the kilometres racked up. After the intermediate sprint at 124km, the road would start to turn upwards towards the second category Col de Portet-d’Aspet, before being swiftly followed by the first category Col de Menté. With average gradients of 7.1% and 8.1% respectively, these would put the hurt into the riders, but it was the final climb – the first category Col du Portillon – where the decisive move would come. This 7.1% climb wasn’t particularly hard by Tour de France standards, but it would come just before a steep descent to the finish line in Bagnères-de-Luchon. Attacking at the right time here could give a rider just enough of an advantage to stay out in front until the finish.

The Team Tactics
Riders would be re-energised after the second rest day, but at the same time, the team was well aware of the hard days still to come this week and wouldn’t be aiming to go too hard today. The team would try to put one or both of Rafał Majka and Gregor Mühlberger in the break and to respond to the day as it unfolds. With some very hard and unpredictable days coming up in the Pyrenees, Peter Sagan would be saving energy and keeping safe in the bunch – every little bit of strength could be pivotal in getting the UCI World Champion through the difficult mountains on the road to Paris.

The Race
In spite of some early attempts to break away, nothing stuck at first. Riders were only too aware that going hard today would make the later days in the mountains even harder. Pushing on the front on the first climbs, however, was Rafał Majka. The Polish rider was looking strong until the race was briefly neutralised after 29km, after which Rafał went on another attack, before Gregor Mühlberger and Marcus Burghardt took their own chance to go up the road. The drizzling rain didn’t slow the peloton – or the break – as they built up their advantage on the flatter sections ahead of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, the average speeds approaching 50km/h and the break’s advantage hitting ten minutes. Going on the attack over the summit of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, Gregor went off the front in a group of two, and although they were later caught on the lower slopes of the final climb it looked increasingly as though the stage would be contested by the break, their lead still strong at nine minutes with 15km to go. Although distanced on the climb, Gregor fought back on the descent to take eighth position at the finish.

From the Finish Line
"It was such a big fight for the group today. It took more than 2 hours and I was already at my limit when I caught the final one. On the penultimate climb, I attacked because I found it easier to go at my own pace but, unfortunately, I ran a bit out of energy on the last climb. The Tour de France is such a demanding race, everything needs to be perfect if you want to win a stage but I'll keep on trying." -Gregor Mühlberger

"Today, you needed luck as well to make it into the break. There were so many attempts for more than 80km, everybody was at their limit, and there were already splits in the bunch at times. Gregor had a strong race, he invested a lot to make it into the break and was present in several groups earlier in the stage. I think this was the reason he couldn't follow the best in the finale. However, he is a young guy and there is nothing to complain about his performance." – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director 

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