Tom Dumoulin tests to solo glory in Andorra; Pinot goes poids; Froome consolidates jaune; Porte confuses; Martin rises to another level; Yates confirms; Aru and Tejay slide whilst Quintana waits – but it’s over for Alberto.
But all that said – no real changes from yesterday and the Bigs only race the last few kilometres…
The road rises straight from the off today with the first cat. climb Port de Bonaigua, 13.7km, average gradient of 6.1% – and the action started right away with it; the ‘riders all over the hill’ of cliché.
Contador (Tinkoff) grabbed some daylight but came back whilst Rolland’s (Cannondale) hopes are wavering; dropped early along with Cav – who’s in for a long day in the montagnes.
At the top we get a ‘snapshot’ of how it stands – Pinot (F des J) takes the points from De Gendt (Lotto) and the man in poids, Majka (Tinkoff).
The Frenchman now ‘virtually’ wears that maillot but with a long way still to go that can and will change.
Behind we have Valverde (Movistar) and Sagan (Tinkoff) as the biggest names in the group to which Pinot, De Gendt and Majka return – riders from IAM, Astana and Lampre are all in there, too.
The group is one minute plus – and stretching – clear of the Sky driven peloton – with Rowe on point; this is a long, long descent to the foot of the Port del Canto.
The full composition of the escape is: Alejandro Valverde, Winner Anacona, Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Diego Rosa, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Rafal Majka, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-LaMondiale), George Bennett (Lotto-Jumbo), Mathias Frank, Stef Clement, Jérôme Coppel (IAM), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Tom Dumoulin (Giant), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Rui Costa, Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Thomas De Gendt, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Dani Navarro, Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).
There are a lot of men in there who could win the stage – Ancona, Costa, Gallopin, LL Sanchez to name but four.
But it’s a big group, hard to forge cooperation and Sky are dragging them back – we may well see a splinter group go from this group.
And Valverde’s presence is a problem, Sky won’t let it go – the Spaniard sits up and drifts back – the break has it’s freedom and the gap grows at once.
At the top of the second climb, the 19km long average gradient of 5.4% Port del Canto it’s Thomas De Gendt, 10 pts from Thibaut Pinot, 8 pts, Rafal Majka, 6 pts, Diego Rosa, 4 pts, Stef Clement, 2 pts and Alexis Vuillermoz, 1 pt with their lead now over eight minutes – it looks like the winner will come from the break who are riding smoothly.
Pinot has built on his lead in the K of M but we still have three summits to breast.
Alberto Contador is out, two crashes and now a fever – very sad and a great loss to the race.
No more to say.
We have 54 K to go now and we’ll re-cap on who’s up ahead with nine minutes in hand: Winner Anacona, Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Diego Rosa, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Rafal Majka, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-LaMondiale), George Bennett (Lotto-Jumbo), Mathias Frank, Stef Clement, Jérôme Coppel (IAM), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Tom Dumoulin (Giant), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Rui Costa, Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Thomas De Gendt, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Dani Navarro, Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).
Sagan nabs the sprint points at Andorra-la-Vella – no one is daft enough to contest.
We’re on the Cote de la Comella now, second cat. and too tough for Sagan – but ‘job done’ for the World Champion who slides backwards.
Richmond Worlds TT medallist, Jerome Coppel goes on the offensive from the break, former Ethiopian Champion, Grmay joins him.
Many kilometres behind, Sky and BMC ride on the front of the peloton – Kiryienka sits, stony faced and churns out the tempo.
Coppel and Grmay approach the summit but pesky Belgian De Gendt zooms up to bag the K of M points then clears off solo.
De Gendt is on the descent of the Comella now and soon he’ll be into the penultimate climb of the Col de Beixalis – cat. one and NASTY with some horribly steep 17% pitches.
The former Giro podium rider is alone and riding strongly ahead of the break on the Beixalis; he has 8:54 on the Sky inspired peloton.
De Gendt is out of the saddle on the fierce hairpins then back in the saddle on the straights to try and find that all important rhythm – hard to do on this beast.
His jersey flaps, his shoulders rock; he looks back, maybe seven, eight break survivors are locked on to him – with Pinot there and desperate for those points.
De Gendt pops, it’s over for him – the grades just too steep.
Sky, meanwhile are in control, four of them turning up the wick on the lower and middle slopes for Froome as rider after rider slides out the back – there goes Alaphilippe, now Moinard, Sicard – Barguil looks shaky.
The Frenchman gestures that his throat is cut and duly slips off the back.
Up front Pinot drives the break, maybe too hard?
Bennett digs from the break but Pinot isn’t having it – those points are HIS.
Bennett again but they’re not letting him go.
Rosa now, Pinot is super glued to him – the Frenchman jumps the Italian former Gianni Savio protégé and takes another good dose of points on the summit – he’s well clear in that competition, now.
BUT double K of M points on the finish line…
The last descent now for the breakaways as they swish under the 20 K banner – there are two games being played now, the stage win and the GC.
The breakaway is splitting, attacks coming all the time; Costa is clear, Rosa counters – Navarro now, Majka counters but Pinot shuts it down.
Navarro goes again with five K to go to the start of the categorisation for the climb – which is 10 K long.
They still have eight minutes so they can afford some games – but not too many of them.
Sky has eased back – Barguil has got back.
Dumoulin goes from the break, looking very powerful.
There’s no real cohesion behind; most of the break will be cooked by now; but his erstwhile amigos realise the danger and try to get it together – but the Dutch time tester has got 53 seconds now.
The big Giant man has 10 K to go with the bunch nine minutes back – this looks like his day.
Pinot forces things in the break but it’s Costa going solo in pursuit of Dumoulin.
There are double K of M points on the summit so Majka and Pinot will be joined at the hip on this one.
Majka’s up to Costa with six K to go as the heavens open at the line – rain and hail.
There’s no real urgency in the peloton now, still four Sky’s for Froome as the gap goes out to 9:24; Sagan is still in the peloton – enough said.
Dumoulin taps out his rhythm with 44 seconds on Majka and Costa with five K to go – as the four K marker approaches he battles through rain and sleet.
Sky’s Poels and Nieve have popped – no surprise.
Henao attacks – why?
Porte now, Froome matches him and drops him as Quintana goes with the Englishman through bouncing hail.
Porte again, shouldn’t he be working for van Garderen ?
Dan Martin attacks, Froome matches him, Quintana is there as Martin kicks again but Porte presses on.
To no avail, Martin, Froome, Quintana and Yates are there as Aru slips off the pace.
Mollema now, driving hard, but closed down.
Dumoulin is at the red kite now, he looks safe.
Mollema is riding hard, again he goes, Froome counters – Quintana is there, Yates, Martin…
Dumoulin wins, solo in the rain – a great ride.
Costa second, Majka third with Navarro fourth a little off the pace – Pinot is sixth to take poids.
Martin is driving it behind, but Froome is there and he goes again, covered by Quintana – Porte is there and Yates as Martin tries to fight his way back.
Four in the lead; Porte – who should not be driving – Froome, Quintana and Yates who goes for it and is first over the line in tenth spot.
A good day of racing with Dumoulin the ‘worthy winner’ of cliché; Martin and Yates excelling; Pinot entertaining; Porte proving again that you cannot have more than one leader; Contador bowing out – and Quintana waiting, we hope…