by Todd Hofert
Alpe d’Huez has hosted 28 previous stage finishes in the Tour de France, more than any other summit climb. Crowds lining the twenty-one switchbacks have been estimated to be over a million in years past. Many have been camping there for several days and their anticipation has been growing by the minute. Strava Labs has posted a crowd sourced photo explorer dotting this year’s festivities along the slopes. As such, you can rest assured there will be a frenzy on the slopes of the Alpe d’Huez long before the race caravan. It will reach a fevered pitch when the riders arrive.
The stage today again crossed the Col de la Croix de Fer as it did the day before. The Croix de Fer, a late addition to Stage 20, replaced the original plan to cross the Col du Galibier, those plans scrapped due to the danger of falling rock. Stage 20 approached the Croix de Fer from the southeast rather than the northwest approach of yesterdays stage. Today’s version of the climb would be longer but not as steep.
Chris Froome, at this stage of the race, must be ready to just get it over with. He again endured rude treatment from a person who spit on him on his way up a climb. Clearly captured on video many on Twitter have been calling for his identity along with a variety of suggestions for retaliation against him. Be aware that viral Internet karma can be a bitch.
The flag dropped at 01:18 PM local time and a group of two, then four formed at 1:20 PM. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale-Garmin), Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) made up the break that stretched out to 7:20 at the base of the Col de la Croix de Fer.
The peloton arrived at the climb to the iron cross and all was tranquillo, but it didn’t last long. Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) took his daily shot at bridging up and getting himself in the break. He brought Andriy Grivko (Astana) with him and not long after a group including Rafel Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Winner Anacona (Movistar), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Bartosz Huzarski (Bora) joined them.
Riders continued to jump across the gap to the chase group, it swelled to ten with the addition of Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale).
AG2R came to the front to assist Sky with the chase looking to secure the Polka-Dot Jersey for Romain Bardet, a feat likely come up short. The tempo set by AG2R brought most of the counter-attacking group back into their fold only Majka, Plaza and Anacona managed to stay clear.
The pace set by Ag2R was relentless. The pressure reeled the Majka group back and reduced the gap to the four leaders to five minutes halfway up the climb. Richie Porte could be seen following the wheels and shoveling calories in preparing for what was sure to be a painful day in the saddle, his assignment, to protect Froome as long as possible.
Jean-Christophe Peraud buried himself for Bardet and fell out the back spent. Astana and Movistar now starting to show their colors at the front. The pace dismantled Saxo as Roman Kreuziger and Mic Rogers could be seen falling away from the pace. Sky suffering the same and just like that Chris Froome was left with only Richie Porte.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) launched the first GC sortie as Richie Porte tried to muster a reaction and was looking around for help that wouldn’t come. Nicolas Roche brought himself back up to his team leader, Geraint Thomas struggling unsuccessfully to do the same. The pains and pressures of protecting the Yellow Jersey were turning people inside out. And if anyone were paying attention to the front of the race, Alexandre Geniez attacked at the front 6km from the top, leaving his break-mates scattering. Stage 20 was already living up to its billing.
Nairo Quintana was the next to go and he shot up the road as Roche again popped out the back. Movistar talked all-in and they were backing it up. Quintana and Valverde joined forces their plan taking form, the Yellow Jersey group reduced to four riders, Nibali and Contador along for the ride. Porte was holding them at ten seconds but at what cost? Contador dropped off the pace and Valverde struggled to hang on to Quintana, his mission to lead Quintana down the descent.
Vincenzo Nibali was next to attack and Froome was forced to follow. Froome shut it down immediately as he would have the day prior had it not been for a mechanical, the message delivered loud and clear. Quintana and Valverde would go over the summit in fifth and sixth place with a gap of ten seconds. Froome would follow and Romain Bardet’s hope for holding the Polka Dot jersey was over. The chase regrouped on the descent as Sky exhaled and returned to the front.
With 26km to go, Alexandre Geniez had 1.40 lead over Bak and Edet, 3.10 over Pinot, Rolland, Plaza, Serpa, Hesjedal, Anacona and Navardauskas, and 4 minutes over the yellow jersey group led by five riders from Team Sky. The stage had been set as the riders approached Bourg-d’Oisans, the gap 3:48 at the 13.8km to go KOM banner. Karma would catch up to Nibali as he flatted right before the start of the climb, Astana coming to his aid en masse.
Nairo Quintana went on the attack almost immediately. Richie Porte able to cover it and Froome lifting his tempo in response. Move one covered. Quintana launched attempt number two, Sky covering but Froome struggling behind. Wout Poels sat on Quintana and Porte marshaled the duties to drag Froome back to Quintana once more.
Ryder Hesjedal now on the attack closing the gap to Alexandre Geniez up ahead dragging Pinot, the teammate of the stage leader along. Nibali was still trying to come back from his misfortune. The Yellow Jersey group was shrinking, with Sky still well represented. Robert Gesink, Mathias Frank, Romain Bardet and Bauke Mollema unable to maintain contact with the Froome group.
Alejandro Valverde rode away from the Yellow Jersey group and Sky was content to let him go. Nairo Quintana, as he had done earlier on the Croix de Fer, jumped to get across but again Sky was equal to the task. Another dig would shed Froome and Contador. Valverde accelerated again as Quintana used him as a carrot. The two teammates joined and pried open the gap as Pinot and Alexandre Geniez joined forces at the front of the race, Hesjedal burying himself to get back to them.
Quintana’s tempo burned Valverde but teammate Winner Anacona, a member of the early break, was just up the road ready to take over the work for Quintana, the gap to Froome continued to grow. Ryder Hesjedal attacked Thibaut Pinot with 7km to go but Pinot was able to cover it and attack in return. Quintana was charging hard from behind using Anacona to prepare his next assault.
Wout Poels would fade at 5km leaving just Porte to take care of Froome. Nairo Quintana refreshed from following Anacona’s wheel accelerated again opening the gap further, now up to 50 seconds.
The race started to show shades of the 1989 come-from-behind victory of Greg Lemond as Nairo Quintana continued his assault on Le Alpe d’Huez, Chris Froome mustering all the courage he could find to fend off the Columbian.
Thibaut Pinot clinging to hope for a stage victory was suffering beyond words. That suffering would pay off and the Frenchman would etch his name in the history of the famed mountain taking the stage ahead of Nairo Quintana.
In the end, Quintana would come up short of both goals of the day, 18 seconds shy of the stage win and 1:12 short of Yellow.
A bitter lesson for the young rider recognizing the 1:28 lost in Stage 2 after missing the split in the winds of Holland. Froome would ride home in fifth place, plenty of time in hand to clinch the overall victory. Chapeau.
The Tour comes to its ceremonial end tomorrow in Paris, this years edition to go down in the annals as one of the great races in history.
Tour de France 2015 Stage 20 Top 10
- Thibaut Pinot (FRA) #21
FDJ 03h 1′ 21″
- Nairo Quintana (COL) #51
MOVISTAR TEAM 03h 17′ 39″ + :18
- Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) #164
TEAM GARMIN-CANNONDALE 03h 1′ 02″ + :41
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) #59
MOVISTAR TEAM 03h 18′ 59″ + 1:38
- Christopher Froome (GBR) #31
TEAM SKY 03h 18′ 59″ + 1:38
- Pierre Rolland (FRA) #121
TEAM EUROPCAR 03h 19′ 02″ + 1:41
- Richie Porte (AUS) #35
TEAM SKY 03h 19′ 32″ + 2:11
- Winner Anacona (COL) #52
MOVISTAR TEAM 03h 19′ 53″ + 2:32
- Wouter Poels (NED) #34
TEAM SKY 03h 20′ 11″ + 2:50
- Ruben Plaza (ESP) #156
LAMPRE – MERIDA 03h 20′ 11″ + 2:50
Tour de France 2015 General Classification Top 10 after Stage 20
- Christopher Froome (GBR) #31
TEAM SKY 81h 56 ’33″
- Nairo Quintana (COL) #51
MOVISTAR TEAM 81h 57′ 45″ +1:12
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) #59
MOVISTAR TEAM 82h 01 ’58″ + 5:25
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) #1
ASTANA PRO TEAM 82h 05 ‘ 09” + 8:36
- Alberto Contador (ESP) #41
TINKOFF-SAXO 82h 06′ 21” + 9:48
- Robert Gesink (NED) #131
TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO 82h 07′ 20” + 10:47
- Bauke Moellema (NED) #141
TREK FACTORY RACING 82h 11 ’47″ +15:14
- Mathias Frank (SUI) #181
IAM CYCLING 82h 12′ 12″+ 15:39
- Romain Bardet (FRA) #82
AG2R La Mondiale 82h 12′ 33″ + 16:00
- Pierre Rolland (FRA) #121
Team Europcar 82h 14′ 03″ + 17:30
Tour de France 2015 Jerseys after Stage 20
Yellow (Overall leader): Chris Froome, Team Sky
Green (Points): Peter Sagan, Tinkoff Saxo
Polka-dot (KOM): Chris Froome, Team Sky
Worn by: Romain Bardet, AG2R La Mondiale
White (Best Young Rider): Nairo Quintana, Movistar
There were so many things going through my mind going up that last climb. There were moments where I thought, ‘hold on a second I could be in danger here’. But then always having my team-mates with me and having Wout and Richie there all the way until the end. Especially after the job all the guys had done today.
– Chris Froome, Team Sky
We fought all that we could to try and gain the time we had lost on Froome, with an attacking strategy from far, far away from the finish, trying to isolate him at the Croix de Fer, yet we couldn’t open a big gap and we had to give all into the final ascent. Winner Anacona did an amazing job for me, riding strong and steady through most of Alpe d’Huez, and the whole team helped me much from the very start, but it wasn’t to be today.
I leave the race satisfied. We lost the Tour into the first week, but I’ll stay content after all good things we found during this race: I’ve got an excellent team, which always took care and supported me, and we all are happy with this. Alejandro? I’m so, so excited about his podium finish. It’s something he searched for during most of his sporting career, and he got it today. There are many people who don’t know the kind of rider he is: he wins from January to December, no matter if it’s a classic, a one-week race… and even podium finishes in three-week grand tours. It’s already a decade since he’s on top of the sport and many people don’t value enough what he does and criticized him. He’s a superb rider and a wonderful person.”
– Nairo Quintana, Movistar
Date: 25 July, 2015
Start: Modane Valfréjus
Finish: Alpe d’Huez
Distance: 110.5 km
Tour de France 2015 Stage 20 route
Tour de France 2015 Stage 20 route map
Tour de France 2015 Stage 20 profile
Tour de France 2015 Stage 20 climbs
56 km – Col de la Croix de Fer (2 067 m)29 km de montée à 5.2% – category H
110.5 km – ALPE D’HUEZ13.8 km de montée à 8.1% – category H
Maps courtesy of Le Tour de France / © A.S.O.
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