On the day when much of the world’s sporting attention was focused on the World Cup final in Moscow, the Tour served up a thrilling and significant appetiser on the cobbles leading into Roubaix. This was the most exposure to cobbles in a Tour for 35 years and it had the impact that would be expected. At the end of three and a half hours in the saddle, the stage was won by Jon Degenkolb, with Greg van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert in second and third.
The GC race was also shaken up, with Richie Porte failing to finish, and Rigoberto Uran losing significant time. Greg van Avermaet retained the yellow jersey. Degenkolb, however, deserves the headlines, leading out the sprint, the 2015 Paris-Roubaix winner holding off the 2017 winner to pick up his first ever Tour stage and complete his comeback from an awful crash in pre-season training in 2016. This was his biggest win since then.
- John Degenkolb (Ger/Trek-Segafredo) 3hrs 24mins 26secs
- Greg van Avermaet (Bel/BMC Racing) same time
- Yves Lampaert (Bel/Quick-Step Floors)
- Philippe Gilbert (Bel/Quick-Step Floors) +19secs
- Peter Sagan (Svk/Bora-Hansgrohe) same time
- Jasper Stuyven (Bel/Trek-Segafredo)
- Bob Jungels (Lux/Quick-Step Floors)
- Andre Greipel (Ger/Lotto-Soudal) +27secs
- Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor/Team Dimension Data) same time
- Timothy Dupont (Bel/Wanty-Groupe Gobert)
The decisive move was made on Camphin en Pevele, when the Belgian National Champion’s jersey of Lampaert went clear with van Avermaet and Degenkolb the only riders who could follow. Behind him Peter Sagan was left to try and close the gap but as the elastic snapped there was no desire behind to chase them down. It was a typical Classics finish, with the lead group extending their lead as the riders behind attacked each other. Their lead rose to over a minute in the last three kilometres before the sprint began and the gap fell. Phillipe Gilbert pipped Sagan for fourth nineteen seconds behind the winner.
Crashes were to be expected on the cobbles, but the most significant for the overall race happened before the riders reached the first secteur, with a collision between a fan and riders leading to Richie Porte abandoning with a shoulder injury. The BMC rider has once again left fans asking “what if” having crashed on stage 9 for the second year when among the biggest favourites for the overall victory. JJ Rojas and Jens Keukeleire were also among the early crashes and the former abandoned, whilst stage favourite Michael Valgren looked thoroughly cut up when remounting.
Northern France has joined much of Europe in baking in a hot dry summer, and the roads and fields leading to Roubaix looked very different from spring. The parched fields and sunbathing fans may not have impacted on the race, but the sweltering conditions and extremely dusty roads undoubtedly made a difference. Transitions to and from cobbles on the tight bends were particularly tough, with plenty of riders sliding out. Few avoided hitting the deck at some point, and it was breathless stuff throughout, with groups splintering and reforming and a great deal of stress for riders fighting to stay near the front.
Secteur twelve saw a significant break in the field, with a touch of wheels towards the front of the peloton on the Warlaing a Brillon splitting the group. Team Sky led an evolving group that included all of the Movistar trident but left several GC hopefuls behind. The main peloton would get back together but Tejay van Garderen, who’d looked particularly uncomfortable on the cobbles, struggled to maintain contact wtith the leaders. He’d eventually lose five and a half minutes, his team’s GC hopes disintegrating on a day when Greg van Avermaet enjoyed a glorious day in yellow.
Another GC hopeful who endured a tough day was Romain Bardet, who had a number of punctures. On ill-timed mechanical saw him lost a minute as the field drove hard onto the shortened Mons en Pevele. Strong work from his team meant that he made it back into the bunch but the energy consumed was enormous. He’d suffer yet another puncture 5km out and finish back in a group containing Mikel Landa.
Many of us had been sceptical about Movistar’s chances of staying connected but they’d managed to keep all three leaders involved until Mikel Landa tumbled badly whilst taking a drink. He and Bardet lost just fifteen seconds thanks primarily to a huge late effort from Olivier Naesen. Further back, Rigoberto Uran was the biggest loser of the main contenders, finishing 1 minute 35 back.
- Greg van Avermaet (Bel/BMC Racing) 36hrs 7mins 17secs
- Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky) +43secs
- Philippe Gilbert (Bel/Quick-Step Floors) +44secs
- Bob Jungels (Lux/Quick-Step Floors) +50secs
- Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar) +1min 31secs
- Rafal Majka (Pol/Bora-Hansgrohe) +1min 32secs
- Jakob Fuglsang (Den/Astana) +1min 33secs
- Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) +1min 42secs
- Adam Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) same time
- Mikel Landa (Spa/Movistar)
It was a thrilling day in the French sunshine and demonstrated the excitement of classics-style racing in the grand tours, but the gaps on general classification were perhaps smaller than might have been expected, with the likes of Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana going into the rest day delighted to have stayed in the main group. There will be plenty of sore muscles to be exercised through the rest day but few riders saw the cobbles end their GC hopes. Porte’s injury could ultimately have happened on any flat stage.