Majka Breaks to Victory in Stage 14 of Tour de France
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has tightened his grip on the 2014 Tour de France. Nibali extended his overall lead by finishing second in Stage 14, a mountainous, 177-km ride from Grenoble to Risoul. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) won his first professional victory in 5:08:27, with Nibali outsprinting Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) for second at 0:24. Peraud rolled home at 0:26. Nibali extended his lead over second placer Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by nearly a minute.
Despite the heat (about 35 degrees Celsius), the racing was aggressive from the start. Seventeen riders slipped away at about 20 km. They were Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve (both from Sky), Steven Kruijswijk (Belkin), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Nicolas Roche and Majka (both from Tinkoff-Saxo Bank), Peter Sagan and Alessandro de Marchi (both from Cannondale), Amael Moinard (BMC), Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida), Nicolas Edet and Rein Taaramae (both from Cofidis), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano). The escapees led the Astana-led bunch by about five minutes at the base of the Category 1 Col du Lautaret. NetApp-Endura joined the Kazakh squad at the front to protect Leopold Konig’s 10th place overall. At the base of the descent, the bunch had halved the break’s lead.
On the Col d’Izoard, Timmer and Sagan were dropped, the latter after puncturing. Attrition took a further toll, and at the summit, the break, which led the bunch by three minutes, was down to 10 riders. Behind, NetApp-Endura’s pacemaking shelled many riders.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC), who began the day in fifth place overall and who is suffering from bronchitis, was dropped on the descent, but his teammates towed him back to the bunch. Ag2r-La Mondiale paced the incredible shrinking peloton on the descent on behalf of Romain Bardet, who began the day in third place overall. The French squad split the peloton, but BMC and Lotto-Belisol, which were in the second group, chased and got back on with 23 km left.
At the base of the ascent to the finish, the break led the bunch by less than a minute. With 10 km remaining, De Marchi attacked his companions and Serpa followed. De Marchi dropped the Spaniard, but Majka and Rodriguez chased the Italian. Majka caught and dropped the Cannondale man and extended his lead over Rodriguez.
After the yellow jersey group reeled in attacks by Peraud and Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Nibali attacked with four km left. Peraud followed, while Valverde dropped back and was caught and dropped by a group consisting of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), van Garderen, Bardet, and Frank Schleck (Trek).
Majka was exhausted but fought to stay in front and claim his first professional win. Peraud stuck to Nibali’s wheel and came around him in the final km. The Italian found another gear, however, and passed the Frenchman to take second.
Majka’s win is recompense for being pressed to join Tinkoff-Saxo Bank’s Tour team before being fully recovered from the Giro d’Italia. In addition, the victory is a fillip for the Russian-Danish squad’s morale, which took a hit when team captain Alberto Contador, a prerace favorite, crashed and abandoned with a fractured tibia during Stage 10. “This win is for my teammates and for Alberto, because I know how hard it has been for us all,” the Pole said. “But today we showed that we weren’t going to give up. I think that we’ve been very active during the last four stages and it all paid off today.”
According to Tinkoff-Saxo Bank directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit, Majka and Roche executed the pre-stage plan perfectly. “The plan was to have Rafal and Nico in the break,” he said, “and they managed excellently. Throughout the day, Nico was working very hard to push on and keep up the pace in the group so Rafal would have a better chance of making it all the way to the finish line. And Rafal executed the tactics brilliantly and he was still very strong on the final meters after a very long day in the front group…it was a magnificent piece of teamwork that provided him with the extra power. A big day for Rafal and a big day for the entire team.”
In the overall, Nibali leads Valverde by 4:37 and Bardet by 4:50. Stage 15 will not change this state of affairs. The rolling, 222-km run from Tallard to Nimes will have a long, flat finish that should favor a sprinter. However, after two hard Alpine stages, a breakaway is just as likely to take the day’s honors. Which will it be? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!