Tour de France: Poels Climbs to Victory in Mountaintop Stage
Stage 15 of Tour de France 2023 offered the two barely separable rivals Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard the final opportunity to battle for valuable seconds before the second rest day of this year’s Tour. Another brutal mountain test awaited the riders as race organizer A.S.O. had designed a grueling stage that featured no less than five classified climbs in seventy kilometers.
The Haute-Savoie department hosted the 179-kilometer stage 15 from Les Gets Les Portes du Soleil to Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc. The route appealed to climbers within the professional cycling peloton as it included the mountains Col de la Forclaz de Montmin (category 1; 7.2 km; 7.4 average incline percentage), Col de la Croix Fry (category 1; 11.4 km; 7.1%), Col des Aravis (category 3; 4.4 km; 6.2%), Cote des Amerands (category 2; 2.7 km; 10.1%), and Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc (category 1; 7.7 km; 7%).
The riders will pass by the scenic Annecy Lake and, notably, the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin featured sections of up to 11 percent and the first kilometer of the Cote des Amerands offered a demanding incline percentage of no less than 16.2 percent.
The hostilities started early, and many teams were eager to get their riders to join a breakaway. Lidl-Trek and Jumbo-Visma were active at the front. EF Education-EasyPost joined the fun. The speed was intense.
The peloton split into two groups and the front group established a lead of twenty seconds. But group two, headed by AG2R-Citroen and Bahrain-Victorious, were chasing hard and managed to close the gap.
With 145 kilometers left multiple attacks were still being launched and then reeled in by the peloton. The speed was very fast, and the riders were using much energy on the many attacks.
A larger twenty-five-man group established a breakaway on the uncategorized Col des Fleuries. After 40 kilometers of riding the group crossed the top of the climb with a twenty-five second advantage. Julian Alaphillipe (Soudal-QuickStep) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) broke away on the descent.
With 130 kilometers left of today’s stage, the Alaphilippe-Lutsenko duo had a 33 second lead over a large group of chasers, while the main peloton was 50 seconds back.
A few kilometers later a serious crash happened in the main peloton. The crash was caused by a careless spectator. The crash took down several riders including Jumbo-Visma’s Nathan van Hooydonck and Ineos-Grenadiers’ Egan Bernal.
With a Jumbo-Visma rider down the team decided to control the main peloton by forming a broad front and thereby let the riders in the breakaway groups escape.
110 kilometers from the finish line the average speed was 46.3 km/h. The Alaphilippe-Lutsenko duo was still in front, while the chasing breakaway group had increased to 35 participants. The main peloton was now 05:35 minutes behind. EF Education-EasyPost’s Rigoberto Uran had shown initiative for the first time in this Tour by joining the breakaway.
The breakaway groups entered the first categorized climb of the stage – the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin. They set a fast pace on the tough climb, and it was Lutsenko who earned the most points for the Best Climber Classification by being first across the top. Alaphilippe followed closely behind. Meanwhile, Ciccone and Powless attacked from the chase group in a close battle for the remaining points. The main peloton reached the top 08:23 minutes later.
Lutsenko almost crashed two times on the descent and Alaphilippe had to wait for him. This resulted in the front duo being caught by the chasers. There was now only one front group left.
Bryan Coquard’s (Cofidis) handlebars cracked on the descent, and he needed a new LOOK bike.
Marco Haller (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the first Tour rider to enter the Col de la Croix Fry (category 1). He was followed by Rui Costa (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) who had initiated a solo chase. Costa joined Haller a few kilometers later.
Haller was dropped by Costa on the climb, while several riders were dropped from the breakaway group. Notable riders remaining in the front group were Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-EasyPost), Krists Neilands (Israel-PremierTech), Lawson Craddock (Jayco-Alula), and Arkea-Samsic’s Warren Barguil.
Skjelmose were pulling on the climb to catch Costa in order to make it possible for teammate Giulio Ciccone to take the most climber points at the top of the climb. Uran was ready to protect the interests of current climber classification leader Powless, who had been dropped. Ciccone banked the points and Uran saved his energy for later in the stage to preserve the best possible chances of taking a stage win.
Jumbo-Visma were leading the main peloton up the climb well-supported by Ineos-Grenadiers. UAE Team Emirates were keeping their gun powder dry.
Lidl-Trek’s Ciccone led the front group onto the Col des Aravis (category 3) climb. Col des Aravis was the first Alp Mountain to be climbed in the Tour de France – in 1911.
Soler attacked 2.5 kilometers from the summit of the climb and quickly built a fifteen second advantage.
Van Aert counterattacked five hundred meters from the top. He was joined by Dylan Teuns (Israel-PremierTech). Uran and Chris Hamilton crashed on the descent. Uran quickly got back on his bike – looking as if he had enjoyed a bit of fun in the hay.
Van Aert was joined by Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) and Krists Neilands and they caught Soler on the descent. While trying to grab a water bottle from a motorcycle, Neilands crashed into a concrete barrier at high speed on the descent.
Van Aert, Soler and Poels pressed on to have the maximum advantage over the chasers when they reached the next climb.
Soler was dropped on the Cote des Amerands (category 2) and Poels attacked solo.
Meanwhile, the chase group was now more than 01:30 minutes behind the men in front.
There was a split in the main peloton and a smaller group, dominated by Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates, had been established. The speed was intense – as was the competition.
Poels was first to enter the final climb of the day – the Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc with a forty-five second advantage over Van Aert who was chasing solo. Soler was 01:18 minutes behind.
The main peloton group with Vingegaard and Pogacar entered Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc and Carlos Rodriguez attacked for Ineos-Grenadiers. He was caught by the favorites group led by Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates).
While Poels was on his way to taking a beautiful stage victory, Majka, Pogacar and Vingegaard were the last men standing in the favorites group further back.
Poels crossed the finish line in solo fashion as winner of stage 15 of Tour de France 2023. Van Aert crossed the finish line more than two minutes later. Mathieu Burgaudeau completed the stage podium (TotalEnergies).
Rodriguez, Vingegaard and Pogacar formed a trio on the climb. Was Pogacar preparing an attack?
Pogacar attacked one kilometer from the finish line. Vingegaard quickly closed the gap. Pogacar tried again with five hundred meters left, but Vingegaard was strong. Vingegaard accelerated shortly before the finish line, but Pogacar was a few centimeters in front of him when the duo reached the finish line.
Vingegaard remains general classification leader ahead of Pogacar before the final rest day of this year’s Tour. Vingegaard has a ten second advantage over Pogacar. Rodriguez is third in the general classification, but 05:21 minutes behind the race leader. Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) advanced to fourth in the overall rankings.
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