- Published: Thursday, 24 July 2014 13:09
- Written by Jamie Naragon
It was the last chance for the climbers to make a difference in this year’s Tour de France when the peloton took on the 145 kilometer long 18th stage from Pau to the grueling uphill finish in Hautacam. Along the way, the pack was challenged with the ascent to Col du Tourmalet, a climb that has been a part of the Tour since 1910 where the organizers biggest concern was bear attacks in the wild landscape of the Pyreness. Today, most riders probably feared and expected an attack from the “shark”, Vincenzo Nibali. Hautacam has been a part of the Tour since 1994 where Luc leBlanc outsprinted Miguel Indurain. Bjarne Riis secured his Tour de France win by winning here in 1996 wearing the yellow jersey.
Today, 20 riders formed the long-lasting breakaway and Tinkoff-Saxo had no riders in the front group. In the main pack, Astana controlled the pace and they never let the front group completely out of sight. Cresting the Tourmalet, two riders, Blel Kadri (AG2R) and Mikel Nieve (Sky) created a gap to the rest of the breakaway riders and no one up the road was danger for Rafal Majka in the king of the mountain classification as the nearest rival was Nibali. On the descent from Tourmalet, second overall Alejandro Valvede (Movistar) dived down the mountain and bridged the gap to two teammates, Jesus Herrada and Jon Izaguirre in the breakaway. But Valverde was brought back before entering the foot of Hautacam.
The front duo had a lead of only one and a half minutes entering the lower slopes of Hautacam where Astana picked up the pace causing clutches of riders to drop out the peloton’s backdoor. Soon Nieve was alone in the front but the quest for stage glory was doomed as Chris Horner launched an attack and immediately managed to create distance to the field – apart from Nibali who soon launched a fierce counter-attack and was now chasing and passing Nieve.
Then Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka turned on his turbo engine and flew up the road on the chase while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) cracked and was dropped by his nearest rivals, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) who were only 8 seconds apart overall. They dragged along Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and they bridged over to Majka. They were not able to catch Nibali who consolidated his overall lead by taking the stage but Rafal Majka secured the mountain jersey by finishing third while Peruad and Pinot pushed Valverde off the podium.
“Rafal did another great stage today and he’s now only a few steps away from the podium in Paris but we still have to do three more stages before we can finally celebrate. He’s done a sensational Tour de France and is probably considered the surprise of the race but I’ve known his potential for quite a while and now it’s unfolding for everyone to see,” said DS, Bjarne Riis after the stage.
The race ends Sunday.