Wout Poels wins stage 15 as GC battle ends in stalemate – Tour de France

Tour de France 2023

Stage 15

Another mountainous day at the Tour de France brought another battle between Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at the top of the climb to Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc on stage 15, with the pair crossing the line together evenly matched.

UAE Team Emirates tried to pressure the race leader on the final climbs of another hard Alpine stage, but the pair fighting over the maillot jaune were totally inseparable despite another big Pogačar attack inside the final kilometre.

As was the case on the Col de Joux Plane a day earlier, the pair were alone with UAE Team Emirates super-domestique Adam Yates as they raced towards the top of the decisive climb of the day. However, this time around, Pogačar simply let Yates’ wheel go at 2.5km from the line. The slowing up in the pace let third-placed Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) work his way back, though Pogačar had one huge acceleration left up his sleeve.

The Slovenian made his move with 950 metres to go, immediately dropping the Spaniard but taking Vingegaard with him all the way. The duo caught and passed Yates and breakaway survivor Marc Soler before Pogačar led the sprint to the line.

However, there was no dropping Vingegaard, the Dane coming around the outside of the final bend and finishing the stage alongside his great rival with his 10-second GC advantage intact heading into the second rest day.

Six minutes earlier, Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) had soloed to the stage victory, proving the strongest from a 30+ man breakaway move after leaving behind Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 11km from the finish line on the penultimate climb of the Côtes des Amerands.

The Dutchman had broken away with Van Aert, Soler, and Krists Neilands (Israel-Premier Tech) after the Spaniard went solo on the Col de Aravis, 49km from the line. Neilands crashed out of contention on the descent off the third-category climb, while Soler was left behind on the descent to the valley ahead of the penultimate climb.

On the way up, Poels was always going to have the better of Van Aert, and so it proved, with the 35-year-old pushing on alone to claim his first Tour de France stage win.

“I always dreamed to win a stage at the Tour. Especially with what happened in the team in the last three weeks with Gino, all the emotions came. It’s just incredible. I won a Monument and now a stage in the Tour. I’m super happy,” Poels said.

Wout Poels distances himself from Wout Van Aert.

“I started to believe only in the last kilometre. I just had to keep fighting. I had to go full gas. It’s amazing.”

“I got sick at altitude camp, had to skip the Dauphiné. I went to the Tour of Slovenia. Luckily it went really well and the team took me to the Tour and believed in it. My DS Roman Kreuziger was saying that ‘ah you’re going to be there into the third week’ and here we are’.”

There would ultimately be no change in the battle for the yellow jersey, with Vingegaard retaining his slim advantage over Pogačar as Rodríguez shed 38 seconds but kept third. Adam Yates is now his main threat, however, gaining 18 seconds at the line and 1:36 on Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) to take fourth, now 19 seconds down on the Spaniard.

Stage 15 of the Tour de France would bring with it more Alpine tests with three first-category climbs as well as second-category and third-category climbs on the way to the summit finish at Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) kicked off the action on the short rise after the start of the 179km stage from Les Gets, though it would take some time for the breakaway to fully establish itself with attacks and counters flowing for the opening 50km.

Riders including the Dutchman, Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) were all among the men making moves at the front in the interim. However, it took Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) to go solo after 29km to provoke the conclusive breakaway move.

The German, going clear on an uncategorised 10km climb, was chased by Alaphilippe and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) before the likes of Van Aert, Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) made it across on the way up.

Further back, a large group of over 20 men formed in the chase, with Powless, Ciccone, Van der Poel, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Ion Izagirre (Cofidis), Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), and Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) all in there.

The Jumbo-Visma-led peloton kept a tight grasp on the situation, however, holding the move to within 40 seconds as the break fought to gain more time. They’d soon get just that, though it was sadly via another mass crash in the peloton.

The group was held up after multiple riders went down after Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) was hit by a spectator’s arm. All riders involved got back up and running, though the ensuing slowdown saw the break ride off into the distance to the tune of four minutes over the next 10km.

Julian Alaphilippe and Alexey Lutsenko climbing to the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin.

Up front, Alaphilippe and Lutsenko had gone clear, hanging a slim 30 seconds up on the bolstered 36-man chase group. They wouldn’t drop back, however, instead battling on to the day’s first climb, the first-category Col de la Forclaz de Montmin (7.2km at 7.3%) at 40 seconds up and over eight minutes up on the peloton.

Over the top, the KOM battle reignited as Ciccone beat Powless to shave two points off the American’s mountain classification lead, while Alaphilippe and Lutsenko dropped back to the group on the way down to make it 38 men at the head of the race.

The peloton upped the pace a little over the following kilometres on the run to the base of the next climb, the Col de la Croix Fry, bringing the gap down to 6:30 at one point. Up front, Marco Haller (Bora-Hansgrohe) took advantage of the lull in proceedings to solo away and start the climb alone, a minute up on the rest of the break.

Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) was next to make a move, jumping from the chase early on the climb before catching and passing Haller to go solo 35 seconds up on the rest. Back in the chase, Powless dropped away, leaving Ciccone the chance to snatch away the polka dot jersey.

Costa was brought back a kilometre from the top, and so the Italian duly shot out to pick up 10 points and tie it up with Powless on 58 points at the top of the mountain classification. The third-category Col de Aravis (4.4km at 5.8%) followed after a quick descent, bringing with it a Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) attack from the break. He soloed across the top before Van Aert brought Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and Krists Neilands (Israel-Premier Tech) across on the descent.

The Latvian would soon crash out of the move after inadvertently colliding with a Vittel water motorbike while trying to get a bottle on the way down. His three companions continued on, though, pushing their advantage to a minute on the false flat after the downhill run.

Soler struggled on the descent to the base of the second-category Côtes des Amerands (2.7km at 10.9%), dropping off the rear as Van Aert led the way. He’d work his way back on the early slopes of the steep climb, but it was just then – 11km from the line – that Poels made his move.

He left Van Aert behind, taking 30 seconds over the top and onto the final climb to Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc (7km at 7.7%), while back in the peloton – over seven minutes back – UAE Team Emirates had taken over the pacemaking in time for the climb.

With Soler fading once more on the climb to the finish and Van Aert unable to keep pace with Poels, the Dutchman was well on his way to his second-ever Grand Tour stage win and first at the Tour.

Back in the peloton, Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) dropped on the Amerands before making his way back on the short descent afterwards. He’d be off the back again soon enough, though, losing ground along with Hindley, Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla), and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) with just under 7km to run.

Vingegaard matched the late attack launched by Pogačar.

A group of seven remained – Pogačar plus teammates Rafał Majka and Adam Yates, Vingegaard plus Sepp Kuss, and Rodríguez and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ). The group would be blown apart at the 5km banner when Gaudu dropped along with Kuss and Rodríguez as Majka swapped out for Yates.

Yates kept going and going until Pogačar let his wheel go 2.5km later – a strange move but one to give him some room to attack. Rodríguez got back on due to the slowing of the pace, but he’d soon let go as Pogačar jumped under the flamme rouge.

He’d gain no time on Vingegaard in the end, despite a scathing acceleration. The day was Wout Poels’, finishing two minutes up on Van Aert and three on third-placed Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies), while the battle for the maillot jaune rages on to Tuesday.

After two gruelling stages in the Alps the riders take a well earned rest tomorrow. However, Tuesday brings an individual time trial in the Alps. The 22.4 kilometres route between Passy and Combloux takes in the short and sharp Côte de Domancy before the road continues to climb to the line.

The parcours is not unlike the climbing ITT from de 2016 Tour. That race went from Sallanches to Megève and took in the Côte de Domancy before moving through Combloux on the way to the finish line.

In fact, this year’s course features an extra section at the beginning, while the part from Combloux to Megève has been removed.

After setting off from Passy the riders tackle the Côte de Soudans – 1.3 kilometres at 8.8% – in the first 3.4 kilometres. A gradual downhill takes them onto a flat section from Sallanches to Domancy. That’s where the Côte de Domancy kicks in. The 2.5 kilometres climb at 9.4% continues for 3.5 kilometres at 5% to the line in Combloux.

Seven years ago the road ascended for 4.5 more kilometres before the ITT finished on descent with a Chris Froome victory.

There are three intermediate time checks – at kilometre 7.1, at kilometre 16.1 and at kilometre 18.9.

The Côte de Domancy last featured in the 2021 Tour. It was the first climb in an alpine stage to Tignes, where Ben O’Connor rounded out a 17 kilometres solo with a commanding stage triumph.

Stage 15 result:

  1. Wout Poels (NED, Bahrain – Victorious) 4:40:45
  2. Wout van Aert (BEL, Jumbo-Visma) +2:08″
  3. Mathieu Burgaudeau (FRA, TotalEnergies) +3:00″
  4. Lawson Craddock (USA, Team Jayco AlUla) +3:10″
  5. Mikel Landa (ESP, Bahrain – Victorious) +3:14″
  6. Thibaut Pinot (FRA, Groupama – FDJ) +3:14″
  7. Guillaume Martin (FRA, Cofidis) +3:32″
  8. Mattias Skjelmose (DEN, Lidl – Trek) +3:43″
  9. Simon Guglielmi (FRA, Team Arkéa Samsic) +3:59″
  10. Warren Barguil (FRA, Team Arkéa Samsic) +4:20

General Classification:

  1. Jonas Vingegaard (DEN, Jumbo-Visma) 62h 34’17”
  2. Tadej Pogacar (SLO, UAE Team Emirates) +10″
  3. Carlos Rodriguez Cano (ESP, Ineos Grenadiers) +5:21″
  4. Adam Yates (GBR, UAE Team Emirates) +5:40″
  5. Jai Hindley (AUS, BORA – hansgrohe) +6:38″
  6. Sepp Kuss (USA, Jumbo-Visma) +9:16″
  7. Pello Bilbao (ESP, Bahrain – Victorious) +10:11″
  8. Simon Yates (GBR, Team Jayco AlUla) +10:48″
  9. David Gaudu (FRA, Groupama) +14:07″
  10. Guillaume Martin (FRA, Cofidis) +14:18″

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