Today was one of those days that seems to happen once or twice in each year’s Tour de France when a big break gets away and is ultimately given free rein to contest the win.Through Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Italy gets its first stage victory in the race for three years, but with an attack from Sojasun’s Julien Simon close down late on, France is still waiting for a home win this year.
After yesterday’s chaotic, wind-affected stage and with Mont Ventoux laying in wait tomorrow, the GC contenders took a day off.
Here’s our round-up of some of the reaction, plus Daniel Lloyd gives a video preview of what should be a massive stage tomorrow – estimates are that 1 millon fans will be waiting for the riders on the bare mountain nicknamed the Géant de Provence.
It’s perhaps surprising that until today, Italy, one of the Continent’s powerhouses of cycling and with a rich heritage in the Tour de France, hadn’t had a stage win in the race since 2010, when Alessandro Petacchi took two victories on his way to clinching the green jersey in Paris.
In part, that reflects the efforts of organisers RCS Sport to raise the profile of the Giro d’Italia, with the number of Italian participants in the Tour having steadily fallen in recent years as they target their home race instead – just 18 took to the start of this year’s edition in Corsica a fortnight ago.
The Tour is also deprived of the one man to have beaten Froome in a stage race this year, Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali, who got the better of the Briton at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Trentin was an unexpected winner on a day that some had predicted might end in a bunch sprint, although the seven categorised climbs that peppered today’s parcours also made it one on which a break had a decent chance of staying away, especially one with a number of strong riders among their ranks.
Had the break been reeled in, Trentin would have formed part of Mark Cavendish’s leadout train; instead, he bided his time and, after Simon had been caught with little more than a kilometre remaining, used his turn of speed to his own advantage, timing his run for the line to perfection, although he insisted afterwards that he had no specific plan.
Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Stage 15 winner and room-mate of yesterday’s stage winner, Mark Cavendish
There was no strategy in the finale. My first thing that I discussed with my director in the team car, Daniele Bramati, was to think about not using too much energy because yesterday we used a lot of energy in the crosswinds to set up the victory of Mark. The other riders also knew that so it was like I had a little bit of a license to pull less.
The other point was to survive on the climb because the other guys like Tejay van Garderen, [Andrew] Talansky, and also Jens Voigt... on a climb they are better than me. If I lose 10 metres to them, then it's finished so I just survived on both of the last hills. In the end, I just followed the guys and closed the gap when I needed to close it.
To be honest, with two kilometres to go, I thought it was finished because [Julien] Simon was still at the the front. [Marcus] Burghardt attacked from the last corner with Michael Albasini; I tried to come back to them on my own but there were other riders on my wheel and they attacked one more time.
I just followed them and we came back together as a group with 500 metres to go and I waited until the 200m to go mark to launch my sprint because we had a tailwind so it was good. It's my first win as a pro, a nice way to start.
With a big week in the Alps ahead, Simon’s near-miss today once again raises the perennial prospect that France may draw a blank, in terms of home stage wins, for only the third time in the 100 editions of the race.
That’s only previously happened in 1926 and 1999, although two years ago, Europcar’s Pierre Rolland left it very, very late until winning on Alpe d’Huez on Stage 19, unshackled mid-stage from domestique duties to Thomas Voeckler as the latter cracked after ten days in yellow.
Today, Simon has the consolation of the day’s combativity prize following as a result of that late attack, but he was acutely aware that today represented a rare chance for his team, a wild card entry, to score a stage win.
Sojasun's Julien Simon, who made a brave but doomed bid for glory and was swept up with a little over a kilometre left.
On the penultimate climb, I counter-attacked the move by Michael Albasini when I could, and I managed to get ahead. From that moment on, it was a very difficult ride to the end.
The final two kilometres were really too long – the length of the straights limited my chances. This is especially a shame as I had to defend myself on these long straight roads: with more turns, it could have happened.
It's infuriating to miss out on a stage win because we know that, for our team, the opportunities are rare. Today we had one chance, and then in the Alps we are on terrain that is not favourable to us. Maybe the opportunity has gone.
Tomorrow sees battle rejoined on the General Classification and in the King of the Mountains competition with an absolute monster of a stage, at 242 kilometres the longest of this year’s race, that finishes on Mont Ventoux.
Rolland, the man who spared France’s blushes two years ago, seems up for it again; on that stage to Alpe d’Huez in 2011, he also moved into the white jersey of best young rider, but tomorrow will also be looking to extend his lead in the mountains classification.
Pierre Rolland, Europcar, currently in the polka dot jersey, mitts, shorts, helmet and anything else that can have a red dot applied to it…
I do not really have a plan for tomorrow, we do not know what will happen with the breakaway – it is difficult to anticipate.
I will try to defend the polka dot jersey, but I do not know what strategy to employ. Between winning the Mont Ventoux and the polka dot jersey?
The two, that would be huge!
Winning at Mont Ventoux, this is something that stays forever. And the polka-dot jersey, it's still one of the four trophies Paris and when it's part of the 100th edition it is also something unique.
Following that dramatic stage yesterday when his lead in the overall standings was slashed by a third, Team Sky’s Chris Froome is aware that tomorrow’s stage, and beyond that the Alps, is one on which he will once again need to be on his guard.
Race leader Chris Froome of Team Sky.
We head over to Mont Ventoux tomorrow which is going to be a really big test. It's an extremely historical climb in terms of cycling so there'll be a lot of guys going for it to try and win.
Then we've got a rest day and the last week in the Alps. The thing I'm most looking forward to in the Alps is getting them behind me – that's got to be what everyone in this position would be thinking.
There is still everything to race for at this point; two-and-a-half minutes is nothing when you have a bad day in the mountains. I just hope to get through the Alps without any bad days and get a bit closer to Paris.
Tomorrow's stage is a really interesting one because obviously there'll be an early breakaway that's going to go.
We wouldn't necessarily be that interested in bringing that breakaway back; we're looking at general classification not the stage win, but other teams will want to bring it back so that they can race for the stage.
It's going to be quite a tactical game tomorrow in the early parts of the race but once we hit the mountain it's all about who has got the legs and that part of the race is quite straight forward.
We've still got seven really capable guys and from the outside it might look as if we've had a rough couple of days but I think, in comparison to what the other teams have had, we're doing pretty well at the moment.
Here’s Dan Lloyd’s video insight into tomorrow’s unmissable stage.
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.