Tour de France: Quick-Step Floors on the offensive in Rodez
Philippe Gilbert finished just outside the podium, four places ahead of teammate Dan Martin, who gained important time in the general classification.
Stage 14 of the Tour de France took the bunch to Rodez, a rendez-vous for the puncheurs, who had a 570m-long hill averaging 9.6% to battle for victory. That's why the five-man break who went clear in the first minutes of the stage was doomed from the start and was allowed to put only two minutes between them and the determined pack, who made their homework on the rolling terrain and brought the escapees back inside the final ten kilometers.
Kiwi Jack Bauer then moved to the front and led the strung out peloton on the streets of Rodez, laying down the watts and making sure his teammates will tackle the hill in a good position, which was paramount on this treacherous ascent, that could very well lead to some splits in the pack, just like two years ago, at the previous visit.
With 300 meters to go, Philippe Gilbert surged toward the front and responded to an attack of Oliver Naesen (AG2R), before kicking out on the steep gradients of the climb. Despite an all-out effort, Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) managed to take the wheel of the Ronde van Vlaanderen champion and jump past him inside the final 100 meters, filling out the podium in that order.
Gilbert came home in fourth place, followed shortly after by teammate Dan Martin, another Quick-Step Floors rider to pack a fantastic fighting spirit and explosive punch. The Irishman finished eighth, for this sixth top-10 result at the current edition of the Tour de France, but more important was the fact he gained valuable seconds on nearly all the other GC contenders.
"I was there in the peloton, waiting and waiting, and then, with one kilometer to go, the door opened and I went on the right side to the front. When Naesen accelerated, I turned full gas behind him. I couldn't wait any longer, because in this kind of situation you lose your speed and sprint if you wait too much. It was a very tough finish and I gave everything out there, so I'm not disappointed at the end of the day", said Philippe Gilbert after stage 14, on which Quick-Step Floors won the team classification, having placed three riders in the top 15.
Sixth in the overall rankings, Dan Martin will go into Sunday's tricky stage (Laissac-Sévérac l'Église – Le Puy-en-Velay, 189.5 kilometers), last one before the second rest day, with a 1:26-deficit on new leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). The 30-year-old can look with satisfaction on his exploits in Rodez, as he managed to increase his cushion over the next riders in the standings, a big morale-boost for Dan, who's still recovering after last Sunday's crash in the Jura mountains.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele