Tour de France 2018
Runner-up when the Tour last visited the climb dubbed “The Breton Alpe d’Huez” in 2015, UAE Team Emirates rider Martin made his move early, dancing clear of the field ahead of the kilometre-to-go banner before holding off a strong challenge from Frenchman Pierre Latour (Ag2R-La Mondiale) to claim only the second Tour stage win of his career and the first since 2013.
After back-to-back ascents of the Mur-de-Bretagne Guerledan climb, Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) led a select chasing pack over the line three seconds down for third place in the 181km stage from Brest, with BMC’s van Avermaet finishing safely in the mix to retain his lead in the general classification.
On a pulsating finale, the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and even Peter Sagan were part of the group – although defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) found himself on the wrong side of a slight split to concede five seconds to many of his GC rivals, while Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) was a further three seconds in arrears.
There were greater losses for Dutchman Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and France’s Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) after both riders suffered untimely mechanicals ahead of the decisive climb.
Dumoulin, who punctured six kilometres from the finish, rallied to come home 53 seconds down while Bardet – two times a podium finisher in Paris – swapped bikes with a team-mate at the foot of the two-kilometre climb but then cracked on the steepest gradient to finish 31 seconds adrift.
Van Avermaet’s nearest challenger is now Sky’s Thomas who is three seconds back on GC after the Welshman picked up two bonus seconds in the bonus sprint 13km from the finish.
Another BMC rider, the American Tejay Van Garderen, is five seconds down in third place while Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe of Quick-Step Floors is six seconds down in fourth place after finishing fourth in the stage.
To further compound matters for Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro d’Italia champion was docked 20 seconds by the race jury for drafting his team car. The Dutchman drops to nineteenth place on GC at 1’23” while Bardet now finds himself 1’45” adrift.
Meanwhile, eighth place for Sagan on a day where all the sprinters were well and truly distanced saw the everpresent Bora-Hansgrohe rider extend his lead in the green jersey standings to 199 points to Fernando Gaviria’s 156 points.
Four Frenchmen and a New Zealander made the day’s break as local rider Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Samsic), Damien Gaudin and Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) and Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) zipped clear right from the start following an initial attack from Gaudin.
Behind, the peloton sat up and seemed content to let the five escapees build up a large buffer en route to the first of four categorised climbs.
Smith took maximum points over the Cat.3 Cote de Ploudiry and the Cat.4 Cote de Roc’h Trevezel in a bid to regain the polka dot jersey he conceded to the Latvian Toms Skujins in Stage 5.
With the advantage of the break peaking above seven minutes, and the conditions getting windier, Quick-Step Floors came to the front of the pack to lead the chase and throw down the hammer.
With just over one hundred kilometres remaining, Quick-Step stretched the peloton out ahead of a tight right-hander into fierce crosswinds.
The result was utter devastation as the pack blew into three groups and the likes of Nibali, Quintana and Landa initially caught out. Their second group managed to bridge over despite the pace-setting by Quick-Step and Sky, but it took another 20km for the third group containing, most notably, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) to make the connection.
Pichon had little trouble winning the intermediate sprint from the break before Norway’s Alexander Kristoff led the pack through ahead of Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria and that man Sagan.
By now the advantage of the break had plummeted to under three minutes – prompting Gaudin to dance clear on a long solo effort. It came to nothing, and Gaudin was out the back by the time his Direct Energie team-mate Grellier tried his luck inside the final 20km.
Grellier led the race onto the first ascent of the straight and steep climb of Mur-de-Bretagne but was swept up before the summit as Trek-Segafredo’s Skujins darted clear to take the maximum two KOM points to retain his polka dot jersey.
New Zealand’s Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-Scott) countered over the summit and established a 25-seconds gap on the sweeping descent.
Bauer did enough to take the uphill bonus sprint as Welshman Thomas pinged clear of the pack to take two bonus seconds for himself. The pace was high on the run into the final climb making it a calamity for Dumoulin when he punctured with 6km remaining.
Bardet also had problems nearer the climb but was able to manage his losses thanks to a swift bike-change with a team-mate.
On the climb Alaphilippe looked feisty but it was Martin who put in the definitive attack with just over a kilometre remaining. As Porte, Yates, Valverde and Thomas dug deep to reel in Martin, Bardet was distanced.
World champion Sagan showed his class by being in the mix – but even this was too much of an ask for the Slovakian showman. With team-mate Bardet faltering, Latour – channelling Alexis Vuillermoz’s victory here in 2015 – burst clear in pursuit.
But the Frenchman had left it too late and Martin punched the air in celebration with a one-second gap over Latour.
Thirty-one-year-old Martin was in seventh heaven after his victory, which saw him rise three places on GC to 1’27” behind van Avermaet.
“My first thought was I really hope my wife hasn’t gone into labour,” joked Martin, whose wife is expecting twins.