Today's stage was brutal, cramming many of the favored peaks in the Pyrenees into a single, short stage of 168 kilometers. Festivities started on the Category 2 Col de Portet-d'-Aspet before marching through four Category 1 climbs in a row - the Col de Menté, Col de Peyresourde, Col de Val Louron Azet, and La Hourquette d'Ancizan before dropping some 30 kilometers to the finish in Bagnères de Bigorre. It was a day where we expected little to happen on the overall classification, and while that was the end result, the route to there was intriguing indeed.
A constant shuffle of breakaway members was occurring at the front end of the race and the battle for mountain points between Simon Clarke and PIerre Rolland was in full swing. Clarke is well behind on the classification and may have been thinking about a stage win instead, especially after Rolland nabbed some 16 additional points today, putting him firmly in the lead with the maillot a pois.
Behind, though, is where the true action was taking place. Early ferocious pace setting by Movistar shredded the peloton early on, even dropping all of Chris Froome's teammates, including yesterday's second place finisher Richie Porte. With Saxo Bank and Movistar both dropping riders out of the early breakaway to drive the group of contenders, Porte was always going to have a hard time chasing back on, and by the end of the day he would concede over ten minutes, plummeting from second place on the GC through the top 20.
With Froome isolated and other contenders having numerous teammates, the stage might have been set to crack open the general classification, reversing the seemingly final blow Froome delivered on yesterday's summit finish. However, despite the best efforts of Movistar's Nairo Quintana - animator of yesterday's stage - the Sky rider was not to be shaken. The final climb was too far from the finish, and the gradient neither steep nor uneven enough, to truly hurt Froome, especially with Alberto Contador still off his game and Alejandro Valverde not taking the opportunity to counter Quintana's moves. Instead, we saw much more of a rope-a-dope performance with Quintana jumping, Froome having to close the gap, and then détente for several minutes. The sub-maximal pace on the climb was evident in the large group that summited together, numbering about 15 riders. Ahead, Dan Martin and Jacob Fuglsang led by 45 seconds after taking the opportunity to slip away in the periods of rest between Quintana's attacks.
Though Belkin drove the pace on the descent and gradually downward sloping roads through the valley towards the finish, they did not have enough riders to pull back the two escapees by themselves and eventually threw in the towel within the final ten kilometers. After working together seamlessly until the final kilometer, Martin and Fuglsang eyed each other and tried to navigate each other to the front. Martin played the situation perfectly, sitting steadfastly behind Fuglsang and then attacking into the final corner with 150m remaining to win convincingly. Behind, Michal Kwiatkowski won the sprint for third out of the group of contenders.
- Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp)
- Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), s.t.
- Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega - Pharma Quickstep), at 0:20
- Daniel Moreno (Katusha), s.t.
- Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), s.t.
- Chris Froome (Sky Pro Cycling)
- Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at 1:25
- Bauke Mollema (Belkin), at 1:44