Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal has won Stage 16 of the Tour de France in Nîmes following a nervous day in the peloton due to the prospect of crosswinds, although splits in the bunch did not happen on an afternoon's racing played out in baking heat.
The Australian, who once again edged out Deceuninck-Quick Step's Elia Viviani. becomes the first sprinter to win two stages at this year's race.
Astana's Jakob Fuglsang, third-favourite for the overall victory when the race began in Brussels more than a fortnight ago and lying ninth on the General Classification this morning, was forced to abandon after crashing with 27 kilometres remaining.
Today’s stage, which took place in temperatures nudging 40 degrees Celsius, had been seen as one for the sprinters, which is how it eventually turned out.
But the very real prospect of crosswinds splitting the race apart as it had been on last week’s Stage 10 into Albi, the day’s five-man break was kept on the tightest of leashes.
Early on in the stage, which looped out and back from a city rich in Roman heritage with its arena, temple and tower that affords views towards Mont Ventoux, the race crossed one of the empire’s finest surviving feats of engineering, the Pont du Gard, where tomorrow’s Stage 17 will start as the peloton heads towards the Alps.
Shortly afterwards, on a sweeping left-hand bend, defending champion Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos crashed, possibly after clipping a kerb.
Back on his bike shortly afterwards, he had a gash on his left knee, and his jersey was torn just where his radio was positioned on his back.
The Welshman, who remains second on the General Classification 1 minute 35 seconds behind Alaphilippe didn’t seem unduly concerned, but with a decisive three days in the Alps starting the day after tomorrow, his chute was not ideal.
Later on in the stage, all the overall contenders, as well as the sprinters looking to contest the win today, were bunched at the front of the peloton as the course turned and had a cross-tailwind from the Mistral, whipped up by the heat.
On a narrower road, perhaps the elastic would have snapped, but today, 10-abreast at the front of the main group and with no team looking to force the pace, the peloton stayed together.
One reason behind that may be the fact that Alaphilippe is wearing yellow; in other circumstances, Deuceunick-Quick Step may well have tried to force a split to distance some of Viviani’s rivals for the finish.
As the race headed back towards the city where today’s stage started in what is effectively a mini, mid-race Grand Depart in the Gard department, Fuglsang, whose crash on the way into Brussels on Stage 1 had already dented his overall chances, crashed and it was immediately apparent his race was over.
In the penultimate sprint finish of this year’s race, Ewan once again came through to eclipse Viviani and take the stage – and assuming the Australian gets through the Alps, he will be relishing the chance to go for victory on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.
Reaction to follow.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.