Tour de France 2023
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) denied Kasper Asgreen (Soudal-Quickstep) a second win at the 2023 Tour de France in an astounding photo-finish sprint from a three-man breakaway in Poligny on stage 19 – following a day of fragmented attacks across the field.
The two riders outsprinted Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën) following an animated chase between a series of breakaway groups in the final 20km of the 172.8km stage, with Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) winning the sprint for fourth place from a pursuing group containing teammate Mathieu van der Poel, Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) amongst others.
The stage was heavily anticipated to be an orderly transition stage, no doubt fuelled by tensions in the sprint teams after a disastrous loss to the breakaway on stage 18, which was won by Asgreen. Today the sprint teams failed again, and Asgreen came painfully close to a second Tour stage win in a row.
The stage proved to be exceptionally aggressive, with an average speed of 49.1kmh – one of the fastest stages in Tour de France history – and described by Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) as “one of the hardest days on a bike of my life”.
No surprise, then, that the main peloton rolled in more than 10 minutes behind the lead breakaway, with the 30-riders who had found their way into the lead breakaway group finishing in splinter groups between the two.
“I wasn’t meant to be in the breakaway,” O’Connor said after the stage finish. “I was meant to relax and take it easy, but it was like a one-day classic there.
“I guess in the final with Kasper and Matej, I’m kind of always going to lose those two boys – they’re two of the strongest Rouleurs in the peloton, and I don’t think there’s really much else I could have done today,” he added.
Mohorič, meanwhile, gave an emotional rendition of his third stage win at the Tour de France. “It means a lot because it’s hard and cruel to be a pro cyclist,” he said. “You suffer a lot in preparation, you sacrifice your life and your family and do everything you can to be ready. Then after a couple of days you realise everyone is so incredibly strong that it’s hard to follow the wheels sometimes.”
Speaking about the final kilometres, he retold the tense finale with Asgreen.
“To be able to follow the decisive attack when Kasper went – he was so incredibly strong – he went on the attack yesterday and won the stage. Today, to have the will and determination to do it all over again? You feel you don’t belong here. I followed him, I knew I had to make everything perfect – I tried my best,” he said.
“I somehow found the strength to follow. I also tried to contribute to staying away because if I didn’t, we wouldn’t stay away,” he added. “At one point I felt sorry for Ben because I knew he had no chance in the sprint but he still pushed because he also wants to contest the win. When he went, I knew Kasper was going to react so I followed his wheel and he basically led me out.”
Of course, in the wake of the tragic death of teammate Gino Mäder, the win also took on special significance for Mohorič and Bahrain Victorious. “I’m not here for just myself but also for Gino and for the team.”
Mohoric ended his post-race interview on a philosophical note. “Every single rider [here] would deserve to win – I saw the faces on the Col de la Loze – you know what everyone is going through.
“I know how much a Tour stage can change your life, I wish everyone could win but it’s just not possible, and that’s cruel.”
The peloton set out from Moirans-en-Montagne for 172.8 kilometres of relatively flat riding and milder temperatures than the peloton has suffered through, with successive days near 40 degrees Celsius in the midst of France’s savage heatwave.
Eddy Merckx himself was the star guest at the race start, as he posed with polka dot jersey wearer Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) and yellow jersey wearer Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).
As the peloton rolled out of the neutralised zone, anticipations of an orderly sprint stage were torn into pieces as attacks came in quick succession. Chief among them was the combativity award winner of stage 18, Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Dstny).
Indeed, Campenaerts began the stage with a score to settle. On stage 18 the startlingly small margin of the unlikely breakaway win was one of almost historic rarity on a sprint stage. There, despite driving the breakaway, Campanaerts sacrificed himself as lead-out man for teammate Pascal Eekhoorn, but both were bested by Soudal-QuickStep’s Kasper Asgreen.
His initial attack was pulled back, with EF Education-Easypost doing the lion’s share of the chasing, while a series of other abortive strikes followed, including a solo breakaway from Peter Sagan lasting the best part of 2km.
It was at the 116km mark that a move at the front of the peloton eventually stuck. The attack contained nine riders – Nils Politt (Bora–Hansgrohe), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma), Campenaerts, Georg Zimmermann (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) and Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek).
With 100km remaining, the break had over a minute to the peloton, while a considerable group of dropped riders formed an effective second peloton on the road.
Only 10km later, Politt lost his spot in the breakaway after suffering a broken chain, having rolled through three different Shimano neutral service bikes in an attempt to regain touch with the breakaway.
The breakaway never managed to ride clear of that one-minute margin, and 30km later, a split from the main peloton driven by Alpecin-Deceuninck duo Jasper Philipsen and Mathieu van der Poel took off from the front of the main peloton caught the initial 10-man break.
The split, driven by a number of Uno-X riders alongside Van der Poel, along with that initial 10-man break, formed a new breakaway group totalling 36 riders from across the major teams. Its riders included Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla), Pedersen, Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Ion Izaguirre (Cofidis) among a host of others. The gap to the main peloton was 90 seconds.
Pedersen attacked at the intermediate sprint in Ney, beating Philipsen to some green jersey points, but stealing only three over the Belgian in the green jersey didn’t do much to threaten his 137-point lead.
Campenaerts’ business with the stage was far from done, though, and with 60km remaining Campenaerts attacked along with Simon Clarke (Israel Premier-Tech) and the two stretched out to a lead of around 40 seconds, a margin that contracted and stretched over the next 20km, but never afforded them a big enough gap to break free of the main breakaway’s gaze.
With 32km to go, Campenaerts lost Clarke to a leg cramp, and he rode on alone. However, a considerable attack came from Asgreen, O’Connor and Mohorič, which soon swallowed up a flailing Campenaerts and stretched out 30 seconds over the sizeable Philipsen chase group. The main peloton containing Vingegaard and the major GC contenders was over seven minutes down entering the final 25km, and it was now certain that the stage winner would come from the lead three-man break or from this main chase group.
That didn’t stop attacks and splits from this chase group, with Pidcock and Laporte then Zimmermann and Ion Izagirre all trying to break clear of the main chase – no doubt conscious that with both Groenewegen and Philipsen in the main chase, their prospects for a sprint win would be slim to none.
With 15km remaining, the chase group saw dramatic fragmentation as Zimmermann, Bettiol, Trentin and Van der Poel drove a savage attack on the front and split the field into pursuing groups.
Pedersen, Pidcock, Philipsen, Laporte, Mezgec joined that four-man pursuit – bolstering it considerably – and the aggression at the front of the race saw a full minute put between Asgreen, O’Connor and Mohorič and the remnants of the main chase group, containing Groenewegen.
Entering the final 5km, we were set for a game of cat and mouse between the two attacking groups.
Philipsen’s group of pursuers couldn’t coordinate their chase quite tightly enough, and Mohorič and Asgreen rode into the final set up for a three-way sprint battle.
Tomorrow sees the last mountain stage of the Tour played out in the Vosges Mountains. The finish is, after six KOM climbs in merely 133.5 kilometres, situated in ski station Le Markstein.
Belfort hosted the Tour de France on more than a dozen occasions, mostly as a starting venue. In 2019 the race went to Chalon-sur-Saône, where Dylan Groenewegen sprinted to victory.
While clipping into their pedals in Belfort, sprinters will be aware that they have no change to triumph this time. The riders traverse the Vosges Mountains and tackle the Ballon d’Alsace (11.5 kilometres at 5.2%), Col de la Croix des Moinats (5.2 kilometres at 7%), Col de Grosse-Pierre (3.2 kilometres at 8%), Col des Feignes (5.1 kilometres at 2.5%, not classified) and Col de la Schlucht (4.3 kilometres at 5.4%) in the first 80 kilometres.
A downhill of 18 kilometres leads into the Munster Valley before it goes back up again on the Petit Ballon. Tension is expected to rise in the 9.3 kilometres climb at 8.1% before reaching its zenit on the Col du Platzerwasel. The last climb of the Tour is 7.1 kilometres long and averaging 8.4%.
After traversing all these mountains the finish is situated in Le Markstein, a ski station 8 kilometres after the Platzerwasel. That last section is undulating.
La Markstein was included twice in the Tour for men – 2014, 2019 -, but it never before served as a finish for the biggest cycling event on the planet.
Stage 19 result:
- Matej Mohoric (SLO, Bahrain-Victorious) 3h 31’02”
- Kasper Asgreen (DEN, Soudal – Quick Step) +0″
- Ben O’Connor (AUS, AG2R Citroen Team) +4″
- Jasper Philipsen (BEL, Alpecin-Deceuninck) +39″
- Mads Pedersen (DEN, Lidl – Trek) +39″
- Christophe Laporte (FRA, Jumbo-Visma) +39″
- Luka Mezgec (SLO, Team Jayco AlUla) +39″
- Alberto Bettiol (ITA, EF Education-EasyPost) +39″
- Matteo Trentin (ITA, UAE Team Emirates) +39″
- Thomas Pidcock (GBR, INEOS Grenadiers) +39″
- Jonas Vingegaard (DEN, Jumbo-Visma) 75h 49’24”
- Tadej Pogacar (SLO, UAE Team Emirates) +7:35″
- Adam Yates (GBR, UAE Team Emirates) +10:45″
- Carlos Rodriguez Cano (ESP, Ineos Grenadiers) +12:01″
- Simon Yates (GBR, Team Jayco AlUla) +12:19″
- Pello Bilbao (ESP, Bahrain – Victorious) +12:50″
- Jai Hindley (AUS, BORA – hansgrohe) +13:50″
- Felix Gall (AUT, AG2R Citroën Team) +16:11″
- Sepp Kuss (USA, Jumbo-Visma) +16:49″
- David Gaudu (FRA, Groupama) +17:57″