Mollema Soloes to Stage Win at Tour de France
Today's stage 15 of the 2017 Tour de France was contested in the Aubrac region. The battle on the 189.5 kilometer route from Laissac-Sévérac l'Église to Le Puy-en-Velay proved another chaotic and action-packed one, especially in the second half, where the general classification teams fired on all engines and put pressure on the peloton, which was quickly diminished on the brutal gradients of the category one climb Col de Peyra Taillade - a mountain unknown to most riders as it had only been contested once before - in the 1997 Critérium du Dauphiné Libere.
Especially the AG2R-La Mondiale team delivered a very impressive and dominant team performance at the front of the peloton in a strong attempt to isolate the general classification favorites of other teams and help its own leader, Romain Bardet, gain crucial seconds on his rivals from other teams.
"The plan was to take advantage of a stage and a parcours that I know well, and we wanted to put our closest competitors under pressure," Bardet told Roadcycling.com. "I definitely want to salute my teammates who did a phenomenal job. I had a lot of fun, and I also want to thank the fans on the side of the road who gave me so much support that carried me to the finish. We can really be proud of what we did today. There are still six fantastic stages to go, so we have to remain humble and remember we are competing in the most beautiful race of the world."
The hard work of the AG2R-La Mondiale team resulted in defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome of Team Sky Pro Cycling becoming isolated. A mechanical issue since forced him to chase back in frantic fashion, first solo, since yelling angrily and gesticulating at a teammate who had come to his aid on the climb. Team Movistar's Nairo Quintana was also dropped as a result of AG2R's determinism at the front.
General classification hopeful Dan Martin of Team QuickStep was attentive and responded to all the moves on Col de Peyra Taillade, before launching an attack of his own with less than ten kilometers to go and forging a gap. Having reached the five kilometer banner, the 30-year-old linked up with a couple of riders from the day's breakaway and dug deep at the front, driving that group home 14 seconds clear of his opponents, including yellow jersey wearer Froome.
"Everybody was on their limit on the last two climbs, and it's really no surprise, as this second Tour de France week has been brutal. After the last ascent, I noticed how tired everyone was and how they kept looking at each other, so I said to give it a try. Can't say the plan at the start of the day was to attack, I just seized the opportunity. I am happy with my legs and now I'm looking forward to the second rest day. After this, we'll see what the last week holds and what I can do in the Alps," Martin explained to Roadcycling.com in the finish zone in Le Puy-en-Velay.
Bauke Mollema attacked his breakaway group and soloed the final 27 kilometers to take home the biggest win of his career. Mollema's solo attack at first seemed ill-fated, being initiated with almost 30 kilometers to go and a strong breakaway group chasing from behind. Mollema, however, did not think twice and never doubted his own strength. Even when the chasers came to within 17 seconds at the top of the final category-four climb, he pushed onward, digging even deeper.
"This is for sure my biggest win. I just can't believe it," Mollema said. "This is what I have worked so hard for the last few years. The Tour de France has always been the most important race for me, always been my dream, and finally I have won a stage."
"With two kilometers to go, I just gave everything I had. Yesterday I had seen the last six kilometers on Google Maps, so I knew the corners more or less, so I didn't blow up, I could keep going to the finish line."
Mollema crossed the finish line 19 seconds ahead of Diego Ulissi, Tony Gallopin, Primoz Roglic and 23 seconds ahead of Warren Barguil.
Martin climbed one place in the general classification, to fifth, and is now 1 minute and 12 seconds behind overall race leader Froome. Fabio Aru (Astana Team) is in second place, 18 seconds behind Froome. Bardet is 23 seconds back in third, while Rigoberto Uran (Team Cannondale-Drapac) is 29 seconds behind in fourth place.
In today's stage the riders from AG2R-La Mondiale again proved that true courage can bring great results and that seemingly unbeatable teams can be easily dismantled by way of bravery and willpower. Many professional cycling teams can and should learn from their example - dominant general classification favorites and defending Tour de France champions are not beaten by waiting until the last week or last mountain stage to attack.
Monday offers the Tour de France riders a well-deserved rest day before the battle for victory is reinitiated on Tuesday with a 165 kilometer stage 16 from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère.
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