Tour de France 2017
Mollema made a courageous dart away from a breakaway group with 30 kilometres remaining on the ride from Laissac to Le Puy-en-Velay and held on to claim victory by 19 seconds.
The remaining four riders were left to scrap over second, with Diego Ulissi edging Tony Gallopin to take second. Primoz Roglic and Warren Barguil finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Froome suffered a scare when he had to change a tyre at a crucial point on the big climb of the day.
But, with help from Mikel Landa, the race leader recovered and came home in a bunch some six minutes off the pace, but crucially in sight of his GC rivals to retain the overall lead.
Nairo Quintana was the big loser of the day, dropping out of the top ten with over a six minute gap to Froome.
Mollema’s win is his first ever on the Tour de France and only his second individual stage win in any Grand Tours since the start of his professional career in 2008. And the Dutch rider told reporters after the stage that this had always been the biggest aim in his career:
” It’s amazing. I’m so happy to finally win a stage in the Tour de France. I just can’t believe it. This is what I’ve worked for so hard over the last few years.”
“I’ve been close a few times and this year I really wanted to go for a stage,” Mollema continued. “That was a big goal for me and yesterday I knew this was a chance.
“At the beginning of the stage it was close because there was a strong breakaway with ten guys and a lot of teams wanted to block the road so we couldn’t pass and then the break took like one-and-a-half minutes. My team-mates finally got to the front and we kept the speed in the peloton and then on the first climb I went full gas trying to close the bridge to the first guys. We made it with 25 guys.
“I was there in the breakaway, that was the first goal, and then finally I felt good and just gave it a try in the last 25 kilometres. I think I never did so long riding alone and in the end it was close.
” Tour de France has always been the most important race for me and it’s always been my dream performing here. Finally I’ve won a stage – I’m incredibly happy.”
On a day that was set up for a breakaway, the early attacks were relentless as the teams jostled for position ahead of a big climb within the first 28.5km of the stage. And with Team Sky controlling the peloton and restricting those who were allowed to move away to non-general classification contenders, a select group of ten were the only riders who able to get away.
In that group was Warren Barguil, kitted out in the polka dot jersey, who was in no mood to relinquish his hold on the King of the Mountains crown. And the Frenchman was first over the demanding Montee de Naves d’Aubrac to claim the first of 25 points in the day.
The breakaway increased up to 25 riders as the gap opened up to over five minutes, and among that number was Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, who had targeted the intermediate sprint as an opportunity to close the gap on Marcel Kittel in the points classification. And, armed with the helping hand of a team-mate, Matthews was first under the green intermediate sprint marker in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole.
With the GC group happy to let the break ride away, Tony Martin attacked off the front of the leading pack, riding with relentless power to open up a gap of almost two minutes at one stage of his solo break.
Allowing the German such a lead was a big risk, but he cracked on the eye-watering 18% gradient halfway up the Category 1 climb of the Col de Peyra Taillade, and 2km to the summit was passed by a flash of red and white as Barguil stormed to the top to extend his King of the Mountains lead.
Encouraged by the time gap Martin had been able to open up, Mollema launched a solo break of his own inside the final 25 kilometres. And even though the chasing group, containing Barguil, almost reeled him back in, Mollema held on to secure his finest ever victory.
With the battle for the stage win further up the road, the GC race offered little drama until the peloton hit the slopes of the big climb of the Col de Peyra Taillade.
Aggressive riding from AG2R La Mondiale broke Team Sky’s control of the group, and Froome already looked in a spot of bother before disaster struck at the foot of the climb. A mechanical left the Tour leader frantically searching for a new wheel, and – even though Michal Kwiatkowski was able to oblige – it left Froome needing a big push to get back to the group.
With Froome all on his own on the climb, Sky made the controversial decision to drop Mikel Landa back to help the team leader. But the move paid off, with the pair rejoining the main group and ultimately cruising through within touching distance of Froome’s main rivals.
Dan Martin attacked hard off the front of the peloton as the stage reached its conclusion, opening up enough of a gap to take 12 seconds off the leaders in an impressive show of strength.
But it was a far worse day for Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who never looked at the races and dropped off the back early in the decisive late climb of the day, losing huge time to drop out of the top ten in the General Classification – effecting ending any lingering hopes of victory in Paris.
Stage 15 result:
1 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo 4:41:47″
2 Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates +19″
3 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal
4 Primoz Roglic (Slv) LottoNL-Jumbo)
5 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb +23″
6 Nicolas Roche (Ire) BMC Racing Team +1:00″
7 Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie +1:04″
8 Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ
10 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Team Dimension Data
General Classification standings:
1 Chris Froome (Gbr) Team Sky 64:40:21″
2 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team +18″
3 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale +23″
4 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac +29″
5 Daniel Martin (Ire) Quick-Step Floors +1:12″
6 Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky +1:17″
7 Simon Yates (Gbr) Orica-Scott +2:02″
8 Louis Meintjes (Rsa) UAE Team Emirates +5:09″
9 Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo +5:37″
10 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team +6:05″