Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) soloed to victory of the Tour de France as the race entered the Alps, with the Giant-Alpecin rider staying clear of his breakaway rivals on the final climb.
Geschke was part of a large breakaway which formed early on the 161km stage from Digne-les-Bains and attacked at the foot of the penultimate climb, the category one Col d’Allos, and held his lead over the summit, on the descent, and to the finish at the ski station of Pra Loup.
Meanwhile, Chris Froome (Team Sky) maintained his overall lead ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), but Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) abandoned the race through illness and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) lost more than two minutes after crashing on the descent of the Col d’Allos, with the Spaniard subsequently dropping to fifth overall and Geraint Thomas rising to third in the general classification.
But the day belonged to Geschke, who said: “I knew it was a difficult descent and I went pretty fast. On the last climb I gave it my all and was able to hold on to my advantage. I suffered incredibly but I cannot put this feeling into words. This is a dream come true. After so many attempts it finally happened. I cannot believe it.”
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), who recorded 11 top five finishes in the first 16 stages of the race, was once again the day’s early aggressor, making an unsuccessful escape bid, but the first significant event came when van Garderen was dropped from the peloton after just 38km on the first of five categorised climbs, the Col des Lèques, and despite chasing back on, eventually abandoned after 91km of racing. Van Garderen started the day third overall on the general classification but had been suffering from illness following the rest day.
Up front, 28 rider formed the break after 57km, containing a number of big names, including Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), Richie Porte and Nicolas Roche (Team Sky), Sagan and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), John Degenkolb and, of course, his Giant-Alpecin team-mate, Simon Geschke.
Contador, sitting more than four minutes down on GC at the start of the day and eager to claw back significant time, attacked on the third climb, the category two col de la Colle-Saint-Michel, but was kept on a tight leash by Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and a peloton led by Team Sky.
Geschke used the run-in to the 14km Col d’Allos to launch his attack from the breakaway, which by now was uncoordinated, and forged on alone, with Pinot the closest chaser, one minute in arrears at the summit. However, the Frenchman’s chances of victory ended on the descent when he crashed. Talansky and Uran passed Pinot in pursuit of Geschke but the 29-year-old stayed strong to record the biggest win of his career.
Back in the yellow jersey group, Contador suffered the same fate as Pinot and crashed on the fast, technical descent and could only watch his rivals, including Froome, Quintana and Valverde, ride into the distance. The seven-time Grand Tour winner would eventually lose two minutes and five seconds to Froome and Quintana, who crossed the finish line in Pra Loup together, despite Quintana’s best attempts to grab a few seconds back in the final kilometres.
Tour de France 2015: stage 17 – result
1) Simon Geschke (GER) – Team Giant-Alpecin- 4:12:17hrs
2) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Cannondale-Garmin +32″
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) Etixx-QuickStep +1:01
4) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) FDJ.fr +1:36
5) Mathias Frank (SWI) IAM Cycling +1:40
6) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) LottoNL-Jumbo +2:27
7) Nicolas Roche (IRL) Team Sky +3:02
8) Jonathan Castroviejo (SPA) Movistar +3:04
9) Serge Pauwels (BEL) MTN-Qhubeka +3:05
10) Adam Yates (GBR) Orica-GreenEDGE +3:21
1) Christopher Froome (GBR) Team Sky – 69:06:49hrs
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3:10
3) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +4:09
4) Geraint Thomas (GBR) Team Sky +6:34
5) Alberto Contador (SPA) Tinkoff-Saxo +6:40
6) Robert Gesink (NED) LottoNL-Jumbo +7:39
7) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Astana +8:04
8) Mathias Frank (SWI) IAM Cycling +8:47
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) Trek Factory Racing +11:47
10) Warren Barguil (FRA) Giant-Alpecin +13:08