Tour de France 2020
Alexey Lutsenko took the spoils on Mont Aigoual in Stage 6 of the Tour de France as Adam Yates retained the yellow jersey on a day of attrition for the race favourites.
Kazakh champion Lutsenko (Astana) proved the strongest of an eight-man break during the 191km stage to the Massif Central, kicking clear on the penultimate climb of the Col de la Lusette to take the first Tour stage win of his career.
Spain’s Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) battled back for second place 55 seconds behind before Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) denied the USA’s Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling) third place on his 24th birthday.
A symbolic attack on the home straight from Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) saw the Frenchman recoup one second over his rivals following the controversial 20-second penalty he incurred for an illegal feed on Wednesday to lose the yellow jersey.
The pack came home in Alaphilippe’s wake almost three minutes down on Lutsenko as the expected GC fireworks fizzled out on the Tour’s first ever summit finish on Mont Aigoual, the climb made famous by Tim Krabbe’s seminal novel, The Rider.
Yates survived what was Britain’s 101st day in yellow unscathed as his Mitchelton-Scott team were happy to take a back seat and let the Ineos Grenadiers of Colombia’s Egan Bernal do much of the tempo-setting during the hilly final third of the stage.
No change at the top sees Yates retain his three-second lead over Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), with another Slovenian, the white jersey of Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), in third place a further four seconds back. Frenchman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) is fourth at nine seconds before defending champion Bernal heads a cluster of favourites at 13 seconds, with Alaphilippe staying in 16th place but now at 15 seconds from the race summit.
Ireland’s Sam Bennett put in another strong showing in the intermediate sprint to extend his lead over Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to 12 points, while Frenchman Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-La Mondiale) retained the polka dot jersey.
After the non-event that was Wednesday long transitional schlep away from the Alps, a flurry of attacks came from the outset as an eight-man move soon formed on the uphill rise from the start in Le Teil.
The presence of Olympic champion van Avermaet – the best placed rider on GC at 3’53” going into the stage – made it hard for the break to get much leeway from the peloton, but after a frantic opening half hour, the race soon settled as the pack sat back and the gap grew accordingly.
Joining van Avermaet out ahead were Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (Sunweb), Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT), Italian Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Frenchman Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep), as well as Herrada, Lutsenko and birthday boy Powless.
As the race passed through the wooded Cevennes national park and along the stunning gorges of the Ardeche river towards the Massif Central, the gap stretched to over six minutes, making this the biggest breakaway lead so far in the Tour.
Mitchelton-Scott’s marshalling on the front of the peloton was briefly interrupted when Bennett and Sagan resumed their green jersey battle, with the Irishman leading the peloton through a few places ahead of the stuttering Slovakian to extend his lead in the points classification.
Two third-category climbs then saw Ineos come to the fore to string out the pack and see the gap come tumbling down, with van Avermaet brief flirtation with yellow brought to an end.
Oss, Cavagna and Boasson Hagen were the first to slip back as Powless led the charge in a bid to become only the sixth rider in history to win a Tour stage on their birthday. The 24-year-old’s acceleration on the Cat.1 Col de la Lusette saw Herrada, Roche and van Avermaet dropped, but Lutsenko kept calm and rode clear with 17km remaining.
Behind, an early attack from Italy’s Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) was the only flashpoint from the main field on a climb deemed the hardest in the Massif Central.
Aru moved within two minutes of the lone leader but his cameo did not last long after some decent, but far from suffocating, pacing from Ineos whittled down the pack.
Recovering from his early troubles, Herrada proved the most capable of the chasers, but the Spaniard never looked as composed or comfortable as Lutsenko, who pocketed the bonus seconds and KOM points over the Lusette before maintaining his tempo on the gentle final rise to the finish.
With fans kept away from the finish because of the Covid-19 crisis, Lutsenko’s maiden Tour stage win must have felt rather strange for the 27-year-old, twice a winner of the Tour of Oman.
“It’s probably the most important victory in my life. The Tour is the biggest race of the year, so it makes me really happy,” Astana’s Kazakh champion said afterwards.
“I’ve been working hard for this win and it’s a stage that we targeted. this morning, we spoke on the bus about our plan today. I knew that I was able to get into the breakaway because I was 45 minutes down in the standings but there was still a lot of work to do. I set my own pace up the penultimate climb and I managed to ensure I was in the right place and held on for the win.”
Herrada held on for second while van Avermaet was in no mood to gift Powless third place, surging ahead to cross the line 2’15” in arrears.
After Ineos effectively stifled any attacks without doing any real damage, a large main pack reached the line together after an anticlimactic day in the battle for yellow, with Alaphilippe’s token dig in the closing metres – a move which earned the Frenchman just the one slender second – the only minor point of interest.
The Tour continues on Friday with the 168km Stage 7 from Millau to Lavaur which tackles some rolling terrain susceptible to wind, but should reopen the door to the sprinters and the battle for green at the finish.