Michael Rogers soloed to victory on stage 16 of the Tour de France, after escaping the remains of the day’s break on the rapid descent into Bagneres-de-Luchon.
The Australian, who climbed well to split a breakaway group of 21 riders on the hors categorie Port de Bales, earned his victory with a perfectly-timed acceleration on the run-in to the finish to claim his third Grand Tour stage win of the season following his two successes at the Giro d’Italia.
Rogers found himself in a group of five on the descent, with Team Europcar having a man advantage thanks to the presence of Thomas Voeckler and Cyril Gautier, but Rogers used all of his experience to foil the French duo’s moves, catching and passing a solo move by Gautier and descending at great speed to earn a gap, taking a bow as he crossed the finish line solo.
How it unfolded
On a day well suited to the breakaway, the attacks started almost immediately, though Astana, the team of overall leader Vincenzo Nibali, kept any attempted moves under check initially – keen not to allow any general classification contenders who had previously lost time to make gains on the longest stage of the race.
With more than 237 kilometres to race, including the final hors categorie ascent of the Port de Balès, Vasili Kiriyenka (Team Sky), Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar), Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) were among those to try and go clear.
The race was still together on the first climb of the day, however, with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) moving into the King of the Mountains lead by snatching the solitary point available atop the Cote de Fanjeaux.
With a fast average speed being set for the first hour of racing, Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr), Kevin Reza (Team Europcar), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) put in a big effort to clear on the front.
With strong riders already in the group, others quickly spotted the opportunity to go with them, and Kwiatkowski, Bernie Eisel (Team Sky) and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale) bridged the gap.
Kiryienka, Jon Izaguirre (Movistar), Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida) and Roger Kluge (IAM Cycling) also made the junction but with Kwiatkowski up the road the peloton upped the ante again.
Garmin-Sharp, having missed the initial 12-man move, drove hard on the front of the bunch, their pace proving too much for Mikel Nieve and Richie Porte (both Team Sky), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), among others.
With the peloton closing in on the front group, the race came back together on the Cote de Pamiers and only Montaguti was able to stay clear over the summit.
Having caught the escapees, however, the peloton was happy to slow the pace – enough for those riders previously distanced to rejoin, before all 12 escapees went clear again with more riders for company.
Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Cyril Gautier and Thomas Voeckler (both Team Europcar), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) were the newcomers.
And with 14 teams represented in the break, the peloton finally abated and allowed the escapees to go clear, with Astana hitting the front of the bunch but happy to not do too much chasing.
Break splits up
The break’s lead stretched to more than 12 minutes as they hit the lower slopes of the Port de Bales, with Roy upping the pace on the front. His move was quickly brought into check and that saw several of the escapees come into difficulty with Kluge the first to lose contact at the back.
Albasini, Delaplace Vachon and, despite his earlier moves, Roy also dropped off, though Team Sky’s Kiryienka rallied to return to the front – taking over pace-setting duties. Dumoulin, Slagter and Eisel were also dropped – Kiryienka looking around for his team-mate, but quickly realising he would have to go it alone.
The splits continued until just seven were left on the front as Rogers set a fast pace. Voeckler did plenty of attacking on the front, tongue out, as Rogers, van Avermaet, Gautier, Serpa, Kiryienka and Izaguirre remained in the lead group.
Voeckler’s repeated accelerations soon stripped that group down further, with Serpa, Gautier and Rogers the last remaining members of the break.
Team Europcar quickly set about making use of their man advantage, Gautier also going clear, but Rogers showed all of his experience by not responding to the attacks – slowly reeling the move in instead.
Big names dropped from bunch
As the action continued on the front, there were also big splits in the bunch and Richie Porte (Team Sky) was among those dropped, as was Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
Movistar looked to press home an advantage in numbers on the front, stripping the peloton right down as Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) saw their hopes of a top-ten finish seemingly disappearing up the road.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was also dropped, before Tanel Kangert (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali’s last remaining team-mate, also lost contact.
Back up the road, Gautier was dropped by the three remaining escapees – conceding 20 seconds by the time they reached the summit, with Kiryienka having recovered to join him in the second group.
Serpa was the first man over the summit, attacking to deny Rolland the full complement of King of the Mountains points, while Rogers was happy to crest at third wheel.
In what was left of the yellow jersey group, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) accelerated in a bid to earn some leeway on the rapid descent and the Frenchman’s move saw the group disintegrate.
Bauke Mollema (Belkin) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) both rapidly disappeared off the back, as did Benat Intxausti who had done much of the pulling for Movistar.
It left just Pinot, Nibali, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in the yellow jersey group
Pinot managed to escape come the summit, descending well and gapping Nibali before the Shark hunted him down and a group of the leading GC men formed – Valverde and Peraud there too.
Back at the front, Rogers and Voeckler argued as the Frenchman waited for Gautier to catch back up, leaving a group of five at the front of the race.
Europcar looked to press home their advantage, Gautier making a move off the front, but once again Rogers didn’t, with his experience telling as he kept the Frenchman in his sights.
And when Rogers went, he attacked at great speed, quickly catching and passing Gautier and leaving the four-man group trailing in his wake.
Descending in a manner reminiscent of his solo win at the Giro d’Italia, the Australian eked out a small advantage as the four men behind chased desperately.
As Rogers entered the final circuit, he looked over his shoulder frantically as Voeckler and Gautier led the chasing group. His move, however, proved to have been timed to perfection as he rounded the final bend with no sign of the chasers – his gritted teeth breaking into a smile.
It left Rogers to punch the air and take a bow as he crossed the finish line to take his first career Tour de France stage win on his tenth appearance in the race.
Further back, Voeckler beat Kiryienka to second place and attention soon turned to the GC men as Kwiatkowski crossed in seventh place after staying clear.
Pinot moves up to third
Nibali, Valverde, Peraud and Pinot remained in the same group – Roy and John Gadret (Movistar) helping their respective team leaders to keep the advantage over the rest of the GC men.
With Bardet some way behind, chasing desperately alongside team-mate Dumoulin, who had dropped back from the original break, Pinot kept the pressure on at the front as the white jersey and a step on the virtual podium opened up to him.
They eventually finished eight and a half minutes after Rogers, ensuring the four of them would make up the top four overall after the stage, while Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) clawed his way into the group on the descent to strengthen his overall position in seventh.
The rest of the GC men followed in twos and threes, Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing) and Bardet – who thanked Dumoulin as they finished together – next across in that order.
Rolland and Mollema lost even more time, though the Dutchman clung to a top-ten spot overall.
The stage leaves big time gaps overall, with Kwiatkowski the biggest riser, but with two more days left in the Pyrenees there is still plenty to fight for.
Tour de France 2014: stage 16 – result
1) Michael Rogers (AUS) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 6.07.10hrs
2) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Team Europcar +9”
3) Vasil Kiryienka (BLR) – Team Sky – ST
4) Jose Serpa (COL) – Lampre-Merida
5) Cyril Gautier (FRA) – Team Europcar
6) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing +13”
7) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +36”
8) Matteo Montaguti (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +50”
9) Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) – Garmin-Sharp +2.11
10) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol – ST
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 73.05.19hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +4.37
3) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ.fr +5.06
4) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6.08
5) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6.40
6) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +9.25
7) Leopold Konig (CZE) – Team NetApp-Endura +9.32
8) Laurens ten Dam (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +11.12
9) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Onega Pharma-Quickstep +11.28
10) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +11.33