It was a stage notable for its hilly profile today, but with only two categorized climbs on offer, and both only Cat 4 ascents, there wasn’t a huge scrap to join the early break. Instead, most teams enjoyed the relaxed pace for the first 50 or so kilometres, before allowing themselves to worry about the sharp 7% incline that would lead up to the finish line. Though the break was allowed to hold for most of the day, it never posed a threat to the would-be stage winners or General Classification men.
Three riders made the break, including Quemeneur Perrig — who had already spent over 200km in breakaways during the past five days of riding — and the Eritrean cyclist Daniel Teklehaimanot. Knowing that the King of the Mountain jersey was being held by Rodriguez who had only gained two points so far, Teklehaimanot put his all into keeping the break away for 160km, and challenging both hill climb contests. Winning the single point available at each, Teklehaimanot has made tour history by becoming the first rider to wear the King of the Mountain’s jersey on behalf of the continent of Africa (I’ve worded that carefully as Froome, who was born in Kenya but rides for Great Britain, squeezed into the polka dots for six stages in in 2013). Teklehaimanot looked delighted with this success, as, no doubt, did my brother, who has the Eritrean in his Fantasy Cycling squad.
The break, having taken both climbs and the majority of intermediate sprint points, led the peloton by a lead of one minute into the last twenty kilometres. With the last 900m being a steep uphill, and some treacherous tight corners to be negotiated at the finish, all eyes were on the likes of Sagan and Degenkolb, the strong uphill sprinters. The last member of the break to be caught was Kenneth Vanbilsen, today’s ‘most combative’ rider, who gave a spirited dig within the last 10km, but lost his lead 3km to go.
The final climb turned out to be a mess. Tony Martin drove the peloton at pace into the foot of the hill, but, due to a touch of wheels with another rider, the retreating Martin caused a large and untimely crash. There were no losses of time thanks to the 3km rule, but Martin took a heavy blow, as did Nibali and Quintana, amongst others. Meanwhile, in the carnage, Martin’s teammate Zdenek Stybar used the confusion to his advantage and snuck off the front for a clear victory, his first in his first tour. The sprint came in and was taken by Sagan, with Bryan Coquard. Degenkolb had to settle for fourth.
The impact of the crash, though, resonated beyond the finish line. It seems clear that Martin, who was in yellow, will not be starting tomorrow with what appears to be a broken collarbone. Stybar has helped moved Etixx further into the top ten, but it looks like Froome will be starting in the yellow tomorrow. There is no news yet on further injuries, though Nibali appeared uninjured as he rode across the line. Sagan, true to form, is holding on to good placing in both the general classification and in the points contest.
Tomorrow brings us one last pure sprint stage before the a hill finish, team time trial, the first rest day, and then the mountains beyond. Given that the single King of the Mountains point available tomorrow appears just 12km into the stage, it would be a surprise not to see Teklehaimanot either working hard to make the break, or jealously guarding his lead at the front of the peloton right from the word go. In fact, he’ll probably be easy to spot before the stage — he’ll be the one warming up his muscles on the rollers whilst everyone else is fitting in a last coffee!