Tour de France 2020
Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar pipped compatriot Primoz Roglic to the summit of the Grand Colombier to win Stage 15 of the Tour de France and keep the pressure on the yellow jersey on a day Egan Bernal crashed out of the top 10.
For the second time in this year’s race, 21-year-old Pogacar denied his friend and countryman a win by outkicking Roglic in the final moments of the Tour’s first ever summit finish on the mythical Giant of the Jura.
Four extra bonus seconds means Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) reduced the lead of Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic to 40 seconds in what is fast becoming a two-horse race for yellow between the two Slovenian stallions.
On the race’s toughest finish yet, defending champion Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) cracked on the 17km final ascent, the 23-year-old Colombian eventually coming home more than seven minutes down in a small group also containing Frenchman Pierre Rolland, the last-man standing from an eight-man break which animated the 174.5km stage.
Entering the day in third place, Bernal dropped like a stone out of the top 10, while another Colombian, the former Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), rallied to limit his losses to just under four minutes.
Rigoberto Uran (EF Pro Cycling) rose to third place in the general classification, 1’34” down on Roglic, after battling to ninth place in the stage, with another Colombian, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) up to fourth place after finishing fourth on the stage behind the Slovenians and an inspired Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo).
Britain’s Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) did his best to break up the Jumbo-Visma hegemony by attacking on the final climb with seven kilometres remaining. The former yellow jersey was pegged back by Roglic’s Dutch lieutenant Tom Dumoulin but finished in eighth place to rise to fifth in the overall standings, 2’03” down on the summit.
Perhaps symbolically, Bernal now occupies the thirteenth spot in the standings, dropping 10 places to 8’25” in arrears. Quintana was the other big loser as he dropped four places to ninth, at 5’08”.
An emphatic display by Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team saw double stage winner Wout van Aert set an infernal pace on the opening third of the final climb, neutralising the remaining escapees and hammering a nail into Bernal’s coffin.
The Dutch-registered team showed their strength in depth as van Aert was able to hand the baton over to New Zealand’s George Bennett and the dependable Dumoulin, before the American Sepp Kuss protected Roglic in the closing kilometre before the man in yellow finally made his move.
The revitalised Porte put in an attack in the closing metres but the Australian was caught in a Slovenian sandwich on the home straight as the men in white and yellow powered past.
Pogacar, the Tour’s best young rider, just had enough to deny his compatriot a repeat victory on the same mountain he secured the overall win in the Tour de l’Ain 35 days previously.
It was that victory which contributed to David Brailsford’s decision to omit former winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas from Ineos’ Tour team – a decision which backfired spectacularly when the defence of Bernal’s crown went up in smoke on the Grand Colombier.
The last word came from Bernal himself, who admitted: “I lost three years of my life today. The back injury is no excuse. The team are going to have to reconsider objectives for this final week.”
The first big day in the high mountains was a 174.5km jaunt into the Jura culminating with three different climbs of the same mountain – and a first summit finish on the Grand Colombier in Tour history.
If the route looked familiar, that was because it was practically the same parcours as the third stage of the Tour de l’Ain in early August – a day where Jumbo-Visma put in a masterclass as Roglic beat Colombians Bernal and Quintana to secure the overall win in the pre-Tour skirmish between the race favourites. Fast forward 35 days and those same two riders would be losing minutes, not mere seconds, to the man in yellow.
An explosive start to the day saw an almighty tussle to make the break as numerous riders tried their luck over a frenetic opening hour of racing along flat, fast roads towards the mountains.
But one rider who aspired to feature heavily in the stage was soon found clambering off his bike and into the medical car after an unlucky high-speed crash drew the curtains on his race.
The Colombian champion Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) was forced to retire after clipping Bob Jungel’s wheel after the Luxembourg rider from Deceuninck-QuickStep peeled out of formation when the pace was high.
Higuita got back on his bike and continued on his way – only to crash again in the convoy of vehicles behind the peloton, resulting in a tearful end to his debut Tour; it was later revealed that the 23-year-old had broken his hand.
Israel Start-Up Nation and CCC Team were particularly active in the early moves, while Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) put in regular digs to drop the green jersey Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in a bid to get in the break ahead of the intermediate sprint.
The tactic was commendable, but it didn’t work: neither rider got into the day’s break, and when the sprint came along, Bennett was able to outfox his rival to extend his lead by two more points.
CCC Team’s persistence had paid off when the break finally formed after 30km of racing, with Germany’s Simon Geschke and Italy’s Matteo Trentin latching on to the latest acceleration from the feisty French veteran Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept).
Also in the eight-man move was Kévin Ledanois (Arkéa-Samsic), Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Niccolo Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie) and Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) as Jumbo-Visma came to the front of the peloton to put the brakes on the chase and let the escapees build up a four-minute lead.
The break broke up on the first of three climbs, the Cat.1 Montée de la Selle de Fromentel, with Trentin piling on the pressure before dropping back to allow his teammate Geschke to zip clear.
A winner on Pra Loup in the 2015 Tour, Geschke was soon joined by veteran Rolland, himself a former winner on Alpe d’Huez. With the gradient ramping up to above 20 per cent, the experienced duo was joined by Herrada near the summit, with Austria’s Gogl, having attacked the steepest part by slaloming uphill to ease the gradient, almost joining the party.
The four came together on the descent before Gogl rode clear ahead of the Cat.1 Col de la Biche. But a reshuffling saw Rolland take the points over the top ahead of Gogl, with Herrada and Geschke tailed off.
Rolland and Gogl joined forces on the flat approach to the foot of the final climb, which they started with a rapidly diminishing advantage of under two minutes. Their time in the sunshine did not last long, both riders swept up by the Jumbo-Visma onslaught in their wake.
With the versatile van Aert setting a brutal tempo, Roglic had the magic carpet treatment as teammates Dumoulin, Kuss and Bennett gave him multiple matches to burn. And almost instantly, two of the Slovenian’s biggest rivals caught fire: Bernal and Quintana dropped with 13km remaining ahead of a steep pile of picturesque switchbacks.
Jumbo showed no signs of easing up after despatching the Colombians with one of their sprinters. With van Aert dropping back to sandbag Bernal, the team’s mountain lieutenants took over with devastating effect, effectively neutralising any chances of attack.
The Ineos-bound Yates eventually took his chances when the Kiwi Bennett was starting to fade, but the cavalry came in the form of former Giro d’Italia winner Dumoulin, who snuffed out the threat.
The remainder of the climb was a bit of a Jumbo-Visma procession – proof, perhaps, that it’s not just a Sky or Ineos stranglehold over a Grand Tour that can have the viewers reach for the off-button.
When Roglic made his move, the 36-year-old veteran Porte rolled back the years to put up a show of defiance, until he was passed by the two outstanding riders of the 107th edition of the Tour.
Pogacar’s win saw him rise to second place in the king of the mountains competition, two points behind the current incumbent, Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-La Mondiale), who held on for another day in polka dots despite not featuring in the break.
What Pogacar lacks in team support, he has in inner-strength and self-belief. The third youngest rider in this race now has two stage wins to his name – both ahead of his compatriot Roglic, the man he beat to the Slovenian time trial championships in June.
The gap in that mountainous ITT was nine seconds over just 15.7km. Pogacar trails Roglic by 40 seconds after picking up the four extra bonus seconds for winning Stage 15. With the UAE Team Emirates rider not conceding any time to his compatriot so far in the summit finishes, the race’s final 36.2km time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles could well decide which Slovenian wears yellow the next day in Paris.
The Tour de France now heads into its final rest day, but racing will return with a chance for the breakaway specialists on stage 16, over 164km from La Tour-du-Pin to Villard-de-Lands to start the final week.