With nobody really willing to chase until the closing kilometres, it was clear from a long way out that the stage was there to be won by the breakaway, and so it was, with Greg Van Avermaet powering away from his competitors, first in a three-man group, and then solo, all the way to Le Lioran. First in a nine-man break, including Rafal Majka and Serge Pauwels, he, Andrei Grivko and Thomas De Gendt formed the front of the race from before 100 kilometres out. As the trio reached the climbs, Grivko quickly cracked, and De Gendt hoovered up the points, becoming KOM leader, but he was dispatched by his compatriot on the penultimate Col de Porthus, Van Avermaet went from strength to strength, and a two and a half minute solo win meant that there was definitely no need for a photo finish.
Back in the peloton, the pace was slow until the climbs of the Massif Central were reached, and Van Avermaet & co. had fourteen minutes of a lead. Then, Movistar, the team of second favourite Nairo Quintana, and wildcard Alejandro Valverde deigned to ride, slowly bringing the gap down, and eventually dropping riders on the Col du Pas de Peyrol, including Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali, who it seems was telling the truth when he said he was riding for Aru, and yellow jersey Peter Sagan, who says goodbye to his jersey, giving it to his classics rival.
Froome, Porte, Quintana, Van Garderen, Aru, Barguil, Pinot, Kelderman, Bardet and Martin all maintained a seemingly comfortable presence in the peloton, with Julian Alaphilippe fighting hard on the back of the group. Alberto Contador had another torrid day, falling to the back of the peloton on the descent, and eventually losing yet more time after his crashes on the opening two stages, coming home in thirtieth, thirty-three seconds behind the peloton, with his team mate Roman Kreuziger finishing ahead of him, but losing a couple of seconds in the run-in. He's now a minute and twenty-one seconds behind Froome and Quintana, which is a huge margin considering that no climb bigger than a category two has been climbed yet. Can he recover from this, and will he make it to Paris?
Van Avermaet had finished long before the peloton did, they were led home by Majka, who had driven a fruitless breakaway behind the stage winner all day, and was just caught at the last by Rodríguez' surge, which took three seconds from his rivals and put him into fourth place. He was followed by Daniel Martin, who looked comfortable all day, could he be turning into a bona fide top five contender?
So then, an exciting stage, but nothing has been shaken up too much yet. That will have to wait until we get to the Pyrenees on Friday.
|1.||BEL||Greg Van Avermaet||BMC||5:31:36|
|2.||BEL||Thomas De Gendt||LTS||2:34|
|10.||USA||Tejay Van Garderen||BMC||"|
|1.||BEL||Greg Van Avermaet||BMC||25:34:46|