Matteo Trentin of Omaga Pharma-Quick Step has taken the Belgian team's second consecutive stage win of the 100th edition of the Tour de France, the 23-year-old Italian getting into a big break on Stage 14 to Lyon and then outsprinting a dozen or so rivals to snatch the win, with Orica-GreenEdge's Michael Albasini second and Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp third. Chris Froome of Team Sky retains the race lead on a day when the overall contenders were happy to let the break go eventually.
It's the first victory by an Italian rider in this year's race - indeed, the first since 2010 - and moreover one achieved by a man who yesterday had helped room mate Mark Cavendish notch up his 25th career stage win in cycling's biggest race.
On the eve of Bastille Day, there was heartbreak for local fans, however, as Sojasun's Julien Simon, who had attacked his fellow breakaway riders on the penultimate climb, crested 15 kilometres out, was brought back shortly ahead of the flamme rouge marking 1 kilometre to go.
Simon had been absolutely on the limit as he headed towards the finish in Lyon with the raucous cheers of fans hopeful of a first home stage win in this year's race ringing in his ears, taking the tightest possible line throug the corners, resulting in some near misses with over enthusiastic supporters and even a policewoman on one bend.
With 5 kilometres left, Simon, winner of the day's combativity prize, had an advantage of 15 seconds, his pursuers strung out on the road behind him as they desperately tried to bring him back. Reeled in he was, however, with a small group of a dozen or so riders reforming in the closing few hundred metres and Trentin emerging to take the win.
Following yesterday’s explosive Stage 13 to Saint-Amand-Montrond, when first Omega Pharma-Quick Step then Saxo-Tinkoff exploited strong crosswinds to split the peloton, this always looked like a day when a break might stick with the imposing bulk of Mont Ventoux looming into view on the longest stage of the race tomorrow.
Today’s 191 kilometre stage from Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule included seven categorised climbs – five of them Category 4, the other two being Category 3 – the terrain also favouring any escapees.
The first attack came just 3 kilometres after the flag dropped to signal the start of racing on another hot, sunny day, and one of the first three riders to get away was the oldest man in this year’s Tour, RadioShack-Leopard’s Jens Voigt, who was joined by AG2R La Mondiale’s Blel Kadri and Lotto-Belisol’s Lars Bak.
Shortly afterwards, they were joined by French national champion Arthur Vichot of FDJ and his compatriot Christophe Le Mevel of Cofidis, with Vacansoleil-DCM, still seeking their first stage win of the race, leading the chase.
Ahead of the day’s first climb, the Côte de Marcigny, which came after 66.5 kilometres, the front group had swelled to 18 riders, with the five earlier escapees joined by Trentin, Albasini and Talansky plus the latter’s team mate David Millar, and the BMC Racing pair of Marcus Burghardt and Tejay van Garderen.
Also in the escape were RadioShack-Nissan’s Jan Bakelants, Europcar’s Cyril Gautier, the Katusha rider Pavel Brutt, two Movistar riders, Imanol Erviti and Jose Joaquin Rojas, Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Geschke and Egoitz Garcia of Cofidis.
The racing had been frantic in the first hour, with the leaders covering 48.1 kilometres, the fastest first 60 minutes’ racing of this year’s Tour.
With 100 kilometres still to ride, and no doubt mindful of tomorrow’s big stage to Mont Ventoux, Team Sky decided enough chasing had been done and knocked off the pace at the front of the main group, although Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Merida and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Johnny Hoogerland would launch an ultimately fruitless bid to bridge across to the select front bunch.
On that penultimate climb, the Côte de la Duchère, an ascent of 1.4 kilometres at an average gradient of 4.1 per cent, the elder statesmen of the break, Millar and Voigt, both former stage winners and wearers of the yellow jersey, were dropped as the group split apart.
More damage was done by Simon as he made his move immediately after crossing the summit, but any dreams he may have harboured of getting his picture on the front page of l’Equipe for tomorrow’s Fête Nationale edition were dashed as first Burghardt then Albasini, followed by the remains of the group, got across to him.
It was an unhappy end to the stage for another member of the break too – Bakelants, winner of Stage 2 in Ajaccio, a performance that put him into the yellow jersey for two days, was unable to resist the effects of a stomach bug with 33 kilometres still left to ride and was forced to answer a call of nature with the aid of a cap; perhaps the only time in this year’s race a fellow pro will envy AG2R’s riders the brown shorts they wear.
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.