Chris Froome maintained his five minute and 11 second lead after stage 19 to Le Grand Bornand, the British rider’s rivals unable to derail Froome’s yellow jersey campaign over 204.5 kilometres and five categorised climbs.
After the previous day’s epic double ascent of Alpe d’Huez, stage 19 gave little respite, with five categorised climbs including the monster ‘haute categorie’ climbs of the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Madelaine. Although lacking a summit finish, the day’s parcours was one to punish those who hadn’t recovered from the previous day’s efforts and the danger of a big upset was ever present.
Chris Froome began the day with a five minute and 11 second cushion ahead of Alberto Contador and British interests rested upon the hope that Froome had recovered sufficiently following his Alpe d’Huez scare.
The day began with the climb of the Col du Glandon and from the flag the attacks began. Onto the slopes of the first climb it was Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) and Izaguirre Insausti (Euskaltel Euskadi) who headed the race, with a large chasing group of around 40 riders behind.
With no general classification protagonists in the lead or chasing groups, Team Sky were happy to keep a watching brief at the head of the main pack, Team Sky shepherding Froome up the Glandon and through a heavy rainstorm.
The long descent of the Glandon passed without incident for Froome as the race went from rain to bright sunshine. On the descent Mark Cavendish, who had survived the Glandon climb in the main field, attacked with Omega Pharma Quick Step teammates Jerome Pineau and Mikal Kwiatowski, in an effort to haul the young Pole up the general classification and white jersey standings. At the foot of the descent, the gap to the leaders was over eight minutes, as the Col de la Madelaine loomed.
Halfway up the Madelaine and Hesjedal was now alone, Insausti having dropped away. Behind him the picture was complex; Pierre Rolland (Europcar) alone in pursuit; Rui Costa (Movistar) and Jose Serpa (Lampre Merida) further back; a group of 33 riders some minutes adrift; and over three minutes ahead of the Sky led peloton, the Cavendish trio, now supplemented by Belkin’s Sep Vanmarke.
As the climb progressed however, it wasn’t long before Cavendish’s group was hunted down by Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard, the British pair permanent fixtures at the head of the peloton over the opening two climbs.
As the race approached the summit Rolland had caught Hesjedal at the head of the race, going on to take the 25 mountain points, while behind the large chasing group had caught Costa and Serpa then split briefly in two. Now 12 minutes behind the leaders was the peloton; Saxo Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador and Nicholas Roche made a probing move, but Sky quickly took control as the long descent of the Madelaine began. Two haute categorie climbs and 100 kilometres had passed and in the general classification it was all square.
Along the valley toward the final series of climbs Saxo Tinkoff, together with Movistar, joined Team Sky at the head of the group in an effort to reel in the escapees. Meanwhile Cavendish, who had slipped off the back of the peloton on the ascent of the Madelaine, was able to rejoin on the flat valley roads.
Onto the second category Col de Tamié and at the head of the race Hesjedal cracked, leaving Rolland alone up front. The Canadian quickly dropped back into the jaws of the chase group. Back in the peloton Saxo Tinkoff was dictating the pace, Contador’s team keeping the pressure on Chris Froome whilst defending his second place on GC against Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.
Froome’s rivals continued to set a blistering pace at the head of the field as the race ascended the first category Col de l'Épine. Pierre Rolland soldiered on alone up ahead, managing to hold off the waning chase group. Rolland took further mountain points at the summit, edging him closer to wresting the polka dot jersey from Froome’s shoulders.
With just one climb remaining the pace of Saxo had shelled a large group including Mark Cavendish and green jersey Peter Sagan as well as Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Peter Kennaugh, their pacesetting done for the day. The real fireworks were about to begin with the last chance to shake up the GC on the first category Col de la Croix Fry, as the threatening clouds unleashed torrential rain on the alpine roads.
Movistar’s Rui Costa sprang from the splintering chase group and quickly bridged to Pierre Rolland at the head of the race. Costa caught and passed the Europcar rider and pressed on into rain, nine minutes ahead of the Froome group.
The attacks from the front of the peloton began, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and John Gadret (AG2R – La Mondiale) the first to show their hands. Up ahead Costa crested the final climb alone and began the rain soaked descent to Le Grand Bornand, homing in on stage victory.
In the peloton Saxo Tinkoff were down to two men, Contador and Kreuziger, with Froome locked onto his their wheels. Fourth place on GC, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) saw his moment and attacked, dragging Froome, Contador and Quintana up to Valverde and Gadret. The riders traded blows over the rain-soaked summit, the top four on GC locked together ahead of the descent.
Up ahead Rui Costa was celebrating his third Tour de France stage victory, with Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) the first of the chasers home. Kloden’s teammate Bakelants was next but as the chasers continued to cross the line the final act of the general classification drama was still being enacted on the descent of the Croix Fry. Yet with the rain still pouring down, no-one was willing to throw caution to the wind and Froome, with Richie Porte back in tow, crossed the line at the head of the peloton just behind Contador, his overall lead intact.
1 COSTA Rui Movistar Team 05:59:01
2 KLöDEN Andréas RadioShack - Leopard 00:48
3 BAKELANTS Jan RadioShack - Leopard 01:44
4 GENIEZ Alexandre Equipe Cycliste FDJ.fr 01:52
5 NAVARRO GARCIA Daniel Cofidis Solutions Crédits 01:55
6 DE CLERCQ Bart Lotto Belisol Team 01:58
7 GESINK Robert Belkin Pro Cycling Team 02:03
8 DE MARCHI Alessandro Cannondale Pro Cycling Team 02:05
9 NIEVE ITURALDE Mikel Euskaltel - Euskadi 02:16
10 PLAZA MOLINA Ruben Movistar Team 02:44
1 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling 77:10:00
2 CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto Team Saxo-Tinkoff 05:11
3 QUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander Movistar Team 05:32
4 KREUZIGER Roman Team Saxo-Tinkoff 05:44
5 RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquim Katusha Team 05:58
6 MOLLEMA Bauke Belkin Pro Cycling Team 08:58
7 FUGLSANG Jakob Astana Pro Team 09:33
8 NAVARRO GARCIA Daniel Cofidis Solutions Crédits 12:33
9 VALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro Movistar Team 14:56
10 KWIATKOWSKI Michal Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 16:08