Dan Martin survives in Tour de France crosswinds
In one of the most treacherous days of this edition, the 29-year-old made it safely to the finish, together with the main peloton.
Looking on the roadbook at stage 11, everyone could see an almost flat parcours, suited to the sprinters, who left Carcassonne behind to go to Montpellier, a regular finish in the race, which hosted a Tour de France stage for the first time more than eight decades ago. But one thing the roadbook didn't show was the tramontane, the strong and dry wind which was set to play with the riders, disturb the quiet rhythm of the race and wreak havoc during the 162 kilometers of the stage, the last one before a new battle between the general classification contenders.
Minutes after the start, Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling) and Arthur Vichot (FDJ) attacked and went clear, but the 4-minute lead they enjoyed was of no help when they hit a crosswinds section, with the peloton going full gas in an attempt to see if some riders could be caught off-guard in the echelons. The bunch was immediately split to pieces, with many men being left behind, while others were involved in crashes and lost time. After the two escapees were reabsorbed, things calmed down, only to explode again in the last 15 kilometers of the stage.
In another crosswinds section, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) pushed the pedal and got a small gap, before being joined by teammate Maciej Bodnar and Team Sky's Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, the race's yellow jersey. The strong group rode a frantic pace and opened a 20-second lead, which began to decrease in the final three kilometers thanks to the combined effort of Etixx – Quick-Step, LottoNL-Jumbo and Lotto-Soudal. In the end, the pack didn't make the catch for just six seconds, as Sagan took the win, after beating Froome and Bodnar.
For Etixx – Quick-Step, it was a day in which the team had two goals: to help and lead Marcel Kittel if it came down to a massive sprint and to protect Daniel Martin. Unfortunately, the crazy nature of this eventful stage meant a bunch gallop wasn't on the cards anymore, but the team still had reasons to smile after the stage, as the Irishman finished with the elite group and kept his third place in the overall standings, just half a minute adrift.
"The guys did a fantastic job to keep me at the front and I came through this extremely tough stage. We showed again that we have a very strong team. With 15 kilometers to go, things became totally crazy, but Tony saved me at that point and rode five kilometers in the wind for me. I lost some time on Froome, but so did everybody else, and to be quite frankly it's a small gap, not the end of the world", said Dan Martin, before talking of tomorrow stage, which will not go all the way to the top of Mont Ventoux, but instead will be six kilometers shorter, because of the strong winds. "Actually, the hardest part of Mont Ventoux comes before Chalet-Reynard, where the stage will now conclude, so I still expect a tough stage. It's a pity that we will not get to climb to the top of this iconic ascent, as we all dream about it, but this is how things are."
At the start of the day, Marcel Kittel was targeting a second stage victory at this year's Tour de France, but the extreme crosswinds made a bunch gallop impossible. Despite missing on the chance to contest for the win in Montpellier, the 28-year-old remained upbeat at the finish: "It was another hard day at the office. The pace was relentless and the fight for positioning really intense, as everybody wanted to get a place at the front. The guys kept me protected and worked hard to take care of me and Dan, who's doing a very good GC. Going into the last kilometers, Peter launched that attack which surprised the whole bunch, Froome responded, and as soon as they took 10 meters, it became obvious that it will be very difficult to bring back such a strong group. It's a pity, but the Tour is still long and other chances will come."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele