Tour de France 2019
Danish youngster Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) crossed the line in second place at 37 seconds moments before Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) led a chasing quintet home in the foothills of the Alps ahead of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida).
The rest of the break arrived in dribs and drabs before the peloton arrived more than 20 minutes down, with Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe coming through a thirteenth day in yellow unscathed.
Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Alaphilippe will enter the first of three decisive days in the high Alps with an advantage of 1’35” over Welsh defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos), with Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) in third place another 12 seconds back.
With Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Colombia’s Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and Germany’s Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) all within 39 seconds of Thomas, the battle for yellow is set to intensify on Wednesday as the race tackles three Alpine giants over two-thousand metres high.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) retained the green jersey, Belgium’s Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) the polka dot jersey, and Bernal the white jersey ahead of Stage 18.
With temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius, the remaining 160 riders rolled off the Roman marvel of the Pont du Gard before the attacks came from the gun.
A large break of 33 riders soon formed as the race left the Gard and entered the Vaucluse region via a succession of stunning gorges – with Belgian former stage winners Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Teuns among an illustrious roster of riders that included the Olympic champion Van Avermaet, the European champion Trentin and a former world champion in Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates).
With French minnows Total-Direct Energie and Arkea-Samsic having missed the move, the two Pro-Continental teams fought tooth and nail to reel in the break, but eventually the elastic broke and the gap ballooned towards double figures.
Riding west beyond the Papal town of Avignon and through the famous Cote du Rhone vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the peloton skirted the lofty talisman of Mont Ventoux – although the climbing on the agenda was very much more restrained than the gradients on offer on the Giant of Provence.
It was breakaway specialist De Gendt who took the solitary point over the Cat.4 Cote de la Rochette-du-Buis before a sudden heavy downpour gave the riders momentary respite from the searing heat.
The large break inevitably split up ahead of the second and final climb, the Cote de la Sentinelle, with Trentin, Asgreen and Van Avermaet among a 10-man collection of the cream of the escapee crop.
Trentin attacked on the climb with Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis) in pursuit. But the Frenchman could not eat into the Italian’s lead, and was passed by Asgreen ahead of the summit after the Dane zipped clear of Trek-Segafredo duo Mollema and Toms Skujins, Astana’s Gorka Izagirre, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss and Lukas Postlberger, CCC’s Van Avermaet and Jesus Herrada of Codifis.
There followed a 10km descent to the line but Trentin kept his cool and Asgreen could not make any inroads – his battle more for second place in defiance of the chasers rather than a maiden Tour win on his first appearance in the race.
For 29-year-old Trentin, it was a third win on the Tour following previous victories in 2013 and 2014. The Italian adds to wins by teammates Daryl Impey and Simon Yates (twice) as Mitchelton-Scott drew level with Jumbo-Visma’s tally of four wins.
The peloton was led home symbolically by the man in yellow, Alaphilippe, some 20’10” down after a hot but attritional day in the saddle.
The biggest mover and shaker in the general classification was Belgium’s Xandro Meurisse (Wanty-Gobert) who took 20th place in the break to rise from 19th to 13th overall, 11’08” down on Alaphilippe.
The only flashpoint of the day came when German veteran Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) appeared to try and ride Welshman Luke Rowe (Team Ineos) off the road as tempers flared on the front of the bunch at the start of the final climb.
Tomorrow’s Stage 18 takes the riders 208km from Embrun to Valloire. It is the first of three defining days in the Alps and features the legendary trio of the Col de Vars, Col d’Izoard and Col du Galibier ahead of a fast downhill ride into the ski resort of Valloire. Never before will Alaphilippe’s yellow jersey credentials be so fervently tested.