Matteo Trentin continued a perfect two days for Omega Pharma-QuickStep by launching a perfectly timed sprint to win stage 14 of the hundredth Tour de France.
The Italian claimed the team’s second consecutive victory after British champion, Mark Cavendish, chalked up his 25th career victory in cycling’s greatest race on stage 13.
Britain’sTeam Sky enjoyed a long overdue day of comparative relaxation on a rolling 191km route from Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule to Lyon, and team leader, Chris Froome, remains the leader of the race.
Trentin had been part of a long-term breakaway that at one point swelled to 18 riders, and struck within the closing 100 metres to claim the biggest win of his career.
The peloton had perhaps expected a breakaway, given a parcours punctuated by seven climbs of category three and four, and they didn’t have to wait long before three of the strongest riders in the peloton went clear.
Jens Voigt (Radioshack Leopard), Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), and Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) moved clear after a high-speed start to the stage.
Some 15 other riders made it across in dribs and drabs to join the trio, among them the Garmin Sharp duo of David Millar and Andrew Talansky, French national champion, Art Vichot (FDJ), and the BMC pairing of Tejay Van Gaarderen and Marcus Burghardt. Stage two winner, Jan Bakelants (Radioshack-Leopard) was also present.
The group worked effectively and built a lead over a Sky-driven peloton that peaked at 6.39, but with some 26km still remaining, members of the breakaway started attacking each other.
Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) was the first to test the legs of his rivals, but was soon caught, inspiring a counter attack from Millar. The Brit surged ahead in his well-honed time trial position, but was soon caught.
There followed a further 10km of stalemate, before the next round of attacks. Bakelants’ bid to go clear cost him a team-mate, with Voigt unable to match the pace of the pursuing bunch and dropping from the back of the breakaway. Van Garderen dropped the hammer in pursuit of the Belgian, and Millar was dropped soon afterwards.
As the breakaway crested the final climb of the day, the fourth category Côte de la Croix Rousse, Julien Simon (Sojasun) seized the moment to sprint clear while his rivals drew breath.
The strength of his commitment to this final roll of the dice was breath taking. The Frenchman took huge risks in the corners, riding closer than most would dare under the circumstances, narrowly avoiding collisions variously with a man dressed as a banana and a police woman.
Behind him, a series of faltering attacks, interspersed with much naval gazing among his pursuers, seemed to aid Simon’s cause. Up ahead, the Frenchman rode with his mouth wide open, gulping in oxygen, and seemingly feeding on the energy from the massed ranks of spectators who lined the road to Lyon in their tens of thousands.
With 2km to go, however, the Frenchman was visibly tiring, rising from the saddle seemingly by an act of will rather than an excess of energy. Albasini was the first to make contact, but Simon found enough reserves to latch on to his wheel. Their alliance, if such it was, was short-lived.
Bakelants, seeking an almost identical repetition of his stage two triumph, surged past both of them with less than a kilometre remaining, but was passed by Albasini, who, sensing time had run out for short lived alliances, was the first to launch a full gas sprint.
But having retained a low profile until the closing metres, Trentin struck, easing past Albasini mere metres before crossing the line. While the Swiss stretched into the classic sprinter’s slingshot, arms and legs locked, Trentin was already sat bolt upright, arms raised high above his head.
Team Sky will find themselves back in the spotlight tomorrow as the peloton rolls out for a savage Bastille Day on which they will race for 221km before reaching the unrelenting slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Froome denied that today’s stage had been easy – an opening 80km ridden flat out in pursuit of the bunch had offered a challenging start he said – but declared himself ready for tomorrow and spoke confidently of his ability to handle the task ahead.
“I think a lot of people have left energy on the road these last couple of days, a lot of people have lost time,” Froome said. “There’s lots of reasons to attack tomorrow.”
“A climb like Mont Ventoux at the end of 245km stage – that’s brutal. I’m expecting big time gaps on the GC after tomorrow night.”
Tour de France 2013: stage 14 – result
1) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – 4.15.11
2) Michael Albasini (SUI) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
3) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp
4) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
5) Egoitz Echeguibel (ESP) – Cofidis
6) Lars Bak (DEN) – Lotto Belisol
7) Simon Geschke (GER) – Argos-Shimano
8) Arthur Vichot (FRA) – FDJ
9) Pavel Brutt (RUS) – Katusha
10) Cyril Gautier (FRA) – Europcar
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 55.22.58
2) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin +2.28
3) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Saxo-Tinkoff +2.45
4) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +2.48
5) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin +3.01
6) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +4.39
7) Michal Kwiatowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +4.44
8) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +5.18
9) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +5.39
10) Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +5.48