Tour de France 2017
Boasson Hagen proved the undeniable strongest of a nine-man move to deliver the Dimension Data team of the absent Mark Cavendish their first win of the race – and in quite some style.
Already on the podium on four occasions without tasting success in this year’s Tour, Boasson Hagen certainly went the round-about way to ending that barren run – quite literally.
The 30-year-old Norwegian and fellow escapee Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) were the only riders of the leading move who took the most favourable line through a round-about inside the final three kilometres of the 222.5km stage from Embrun.
Boasson Hagen then attacked his German rival to open up an unassailable lead before the final kilometre: an anti-climactic but commendable conclusion to the longest stage in the 104th edition of the Tour.
Beaming with pride, Boasson Hagen came home five seconds to the better of Arndt, with Belgian Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) winning the consolation sprint for third place 17 seconds down – ahead of Italy’s Daniele Bennati (Movistar) and Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal).
There followed a short wait for the remainder of the initial 20-man break to cross the line in dribs and drabs before the peloton finally rolled home a huge 12’27” in arrears.
Surrounded by his Sky team-mates, Froome retained his slender lead in the general classification after a wholly uneventful day for the yellow jersey favourites.
Froome will enter Saturday’s all-important 22.5km individual time trial in Marseille – for which he will be one of the overwhelming favourites – with a 23-second advantage over Frenchman Romain Bardet of Ag2R-La Mondiale.
Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) is third on GC at 29 seconds and is the only rider likely to pose a threat to his former team-mate Froome in his bid to win a fourth Tour crown.
With three third-category climbs and some rolling roads on the menu, Stage 19 was always going to appeal to the breakaway specialists – and so it proved when eight riders rode onto the first climb with a small gap over the peloton.
The race came back together over the summit before 20 riders – including Stage 9 winner Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Stage 15 winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) – managed to edge ahead on the descent to open up a decent gap ahead of the second climb with 182km remaining. That gap grew and grew – hovering around the eight-minute mark for most of the stage before stretching even further out towards the end.
Numerous attacks came on the final classified climb of the Tour, the Col de Pointu, with 50km remaining. But it was not until the final 20km of the stage when the break definitively split with nine riders zipping ahead under the command of the indefatigable De Gendt.
Also present in the move were Frenchmen Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Belgians Jan Bakelants (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Keukeleire, Italian veteran Bennati, German youngster Arndt, Switzerland’s Michel Albasini (Orica-Scott) and that man Boasson Hagen.
Gesbert – at 22, the youngest rider in the race – tried his luck with 8km remaining before Albasini, De Gendt and Chavanel all put in large digs to test the waters. But in the end the winning move came from those who had clearly studied the roadbook as Boasson Hagen and Arndt chose the correct side of a roundabout with 3km remaining to open up a gap.
As Arndt flicked the elbow, Boasson Hagan obliged and came through – before continuing his acceleration to drop his rival and open up a large gap. Behind, the chasers pretty much gave up, knowing that they had been outfoxed by the duo ahead.
Twice missing out in photo-finishes (to Marcel Kittel and Michael Matthews) and twice third place earlier in the Tour, Boasson Hagen clearly wasn’t taking any chances.
“I could have waited but I saw that I was also feeling quite good and I felt that I could manage to do one attack and try everything for that,” he said. “I made a big gap and I could cross the line alone – I didn’t have to have another photo finish so I’m happy about that.”
Boasson Hagen’s victory was his third in the Tour but came six years after he notched a brace while riding for Team Sky in the 2011 edition of the race while in the colours of Norwegian national champion.
“The team did really well before I got away in the break to try and control the small group,” he told reporters. “On the climb I just tried to stay in position so when we came down I was in the breakaway.
“We worked really well together all day and inside the last two kilometres or so I made a final attack and nobody could follow. I’m really happy I managed to win after being so close so many times – now finally I have got one.”
Meanwhile, the remaining eight riders from Team Sky crossed the line on the front of the peloton 12’27” in arrears to put their man Chris Froome one step closer to his fourth Tour title.
While Froome has little room for error ahead of the deciding Marseille time trial on Saturday, his speciality in the discipline will make him favourite to notch his first stage win of the race – and with it the overall victory.
The Tour concludes with the traditional stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday.