Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo, the sole survivor of the day's break, has won Stage 14 of the Tour de France in Risoul, with race leader Vincenzo Nibali finishing 24 seconds behind to consolidate his hold on the yellow jersey. Behind, Movistar's Alejandro Valverde was dropped by a group containing the men presenting the biggest threat to his second place overall.
Nibali now lies 4 minutes 37 seconds ahead of Valverde on the General Classification, with AG2R’s Romain Bardet now just 13 seconds behind in third place, 16 seconds up on Thibaut Pinot of FDJ.fr, the French pair locking horns on the final climb but crossing the line together.
Nibali had attacked with 3 kilometres remaining of the climb to Risoul that came at the end of the 177 kilometre stage from Risoul, only AG2R’s Jean-Christophe Peraud, who finished third, able to stay with him. Nibali attacked again, but was unable to shake off his unwanted companion.
Meanwhile BMC’s Tejay van Garden made a series of attacks in the group behind, looking to make up time on Bardet and Pinot, but it was Valverde who was put in trouble by the American’s move, dropping off the back of the group.
The break that would produce the stage winner got away early on and included Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who took the intermediate sprint to consolidate his lead in the points competition.
Also there was Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, who led the race over the first two categorised climbs of the Col du Lautaret and Col d’Izoard to tighten his grip on the polka dot jersey as King of the Mountains.
The two British riders left in the race were in the escape group, too – Simon Yates of Orica-GreenEdge and Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who had team mate Mikel Nieve for company and put in some big turns at the front, including on the way up the Izoard, the highest point in this year’s race.
On the long descent from that summit, battle was joined in the main group behind between Bardet and Pinot, engaged in a fight for both the third podium place and the best young rider’s white jersey.
Bardet, who moved up to third overall yesterday, was led down by his AG2R team mate Christophe Riblon, who had dropped back from the break to help out, in a small group that also included Nibali.
FDJ.fr’s Pinot, a more nervous descender, was distanced on the downhill but got back into the GC group ahead of the final climb and kept with Bardet all the way up to the finish.
Up ahead, Cannondale’s Alessandro De Marchi attacked on the final ascent to Risoul, making its debut in the Tour de France, but a familiar climb for the Italian – he won a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné here last year.
Majka subsequently overhauled De Marchi, the latter joined by Rodriguez. It seemed as though the Polish rider would be swept up as the GC group closed the gap to less than a minute, but he held on to take what is his first professional victory.
It's also one that will ease Tinkoff-Saxo’s disappointment at the departure from the race of Alberto Contador on Monday with a broken fibula.
Rafal Majka, Stage 15 winner
This is my first pro victory. I was always coming second, third, etc. I needed to win some big stage at the Tour de France. The assertion that I didn't want to ride the Tour de France is not a true story. Bjarne Riis and my directeur sportif Fabrizio Guidi told me: ‘You'll do the Tour but you'll take it easy in the first week.'
The plan was to help Alberto Contador in the mountains but we had bad luck. Since his accident, we try to win a stage. It's also wrong to think that I'm doing the Tour because Roman Kreuziger isn't. Had he been able to start, we would have both been part of the team.
My team-mates and Bjarne said this morning that, shall I go in the breakaway, I'd win the stage. I think we had 1.10 lead at the bottom of the last climb. I attacked and dropped Rodriguez and a Cannondale rider [Alessandro De Marchi] off. I tried to do it alone and I fought for winning.
Race leader, Vincenzo Nibali
I heard that he [Valverde] cracked after I left him. Péraud stayed on my wheel and then sprinted! That's cycling I suppose… In any case, Majka deserves his victory. He's going well. Yesterday he was in the breakaway and today he claimed a beautiful win. I'm happy for him. But I can't say I let him. I don't know if I could have caught him. When I accelerated, he already had good advantage of around 50 seconds. My goal was to gain time over Valverde.
Majka's victory here after he finished 6th in the Giro makes me think that it's possible to do both Grand Tours. I did them both when I was young but now I'm physically much more mature. My challenge for next year might well be to target Giro and Tour but I yet have to talk to my team. When we finish a season, we restart from scratch. It's not excluded that I'll be present at both Giro and Tour next year.
I don't see why my lead at the Tour de France would be less valuable because Alberto Contador and Chris Froome aren't here anymore… Last year I won the Giro, I came second at the Vuelta and I beat Froome and Contador at almost all the races I did with them.
Alejandro Valverde, still second overall but who lost time today
Of course it was hard today but I rode well yesterday and made a difference. That's the Tour. I didn't crack. As I said, I had a small problem with Pinot and I could not receive assistance the way I needed and as there was a long stretch on the flat, it was hard. Nibali is the strongest for sure. He's the strongest but others are very close. Yes, my rivals for the podium are Pinot, Bardet but also van Garderen.
Best young rider, Romain Bardet
We've remained cautious in the first two weeks but today we've felt there was an opportunity for something big. We made the race hard. It hasn't worked on the way up to the Col d'Izoard but later we managed to regain some time. I didn't attack in the downhill thinking of Thibaut Pinot. I fight against all my adversaries. I'm also competing against Valverde, van Garderen, etc.
I didn't feel that Valverde was going to crack but he suddenly put himself aside. Since the beginning of the Tour, today is the day I've enjoyed the most. Last year I was stronger in the third week, I hope it's going to be the same again.
Mountains classification leader Joaquin Rodriguez, in the break today
It's been a very fast start and I've been lucky enough to make the breakaway. Nibali was up there too but he was the danger number 1 for our move. Fortunately he didn't stay in the front group. It went well for me in the first two climbs.
I got the KOM points I wanted but I was tired in the last hill. I still tried to go for the stage win though… But my main goal is to win the polka dot jersey. This would be something unique in my career. I have a big week ahead. I hope for the best in the Pyrenees, close to home.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.