The sprinters are denied – but it’s a sprinter who wins. It was big smiled Aussie, Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews (Orica) kicking to glory from Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) in third spot – a podium of real quality from the big day-long breakaway.
And whilst Sagan may not have taken the stage bouquet he took the stage by the scruff of the neck and thrust himself back into green – possible all the way to Paris, now.
There was no change on GC on a stress free day for Sky.
Peugeot and Raleigh ex-pro Billy Bilsland always says the that the race is the last hour – and coming to that point with 45 K or so to go we have; Landa (Sky), G. Izagirre (Movistar), Nibali (Astana), Sagan (Tinkoff), S. Dumoulin (AG2R), Caruso (BMC), Cummings (Dimension Data), Rui Costa (Lampre), GVA (Lotto), Matthews (Orica), Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Gallopin (Lotto), Durbridge (Orica), Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Impey (Orica).
The desperados got away off the day’s big climb – which reared from the start – the Port d’Envalira and worked cohesively to build a lead.
Da Silva took the points on the Envalira, whilst Sagan – it almost goes without saying – took the intermediate sprint points of the day, uncontested.
And that was the early story – we’re now at 40 K to go with the rain on, the break beginning to squabble and the chase on with the gap at 4:40 – and that’s closable.
IAM are doing a lot of the chasing – why?
They have no GC contender and no sprinter – a favour ? punishment from the Boss for a lack lustre first week?
Direct Energie are on the case too – but that’s for Coquard.
There’s a second, minor ascent late in the day – a third cat. where there’s guaranteed to be an attack out of the break – especially with Big Guns like GVA, Sagan and Cummings.
Inside 30 K now and the break still has four minutes – that doesn’t look like it’s coming back.
And the break has split; at the ‘right’ end we have Sagan, GVA, Dumoulin, Boasson Hagen – and all three Oricas.
Advantage Oz with 23 K to go.
And no stage win for Steve Cummings…
Sky on point now, Froome’s yellow cape flaps in the breeze – just when we think he can’t look any worse…
But the peloton has clocked off, the sprinters’ teams are saving it for tomorrow as the gap goes to six minutes and growing.
Boasson Hagen tells Matthews he has to work; ‘we’re not daft you know, Michael!’
But Matthews refuses to go through, Durbridge and Impey are working for him – but Sagan, GVA and Boasson Hagen will ease back on their workload now.
This should be a real tactical finish.
As you’d expect from a Belgian, GVA has installs himself at the rear but Sagan is still going through – he’s a beast and this world champion doesn’t mess around.
Inside 10 K it’s till ‘advantage Orica’ but Durbo and Impey are liable to pop on the climb after all their graft.
And there’s the 1.8 K to the K o M line banner.
Durbridge continues to lead up the grade, Sagan cruises, GVA schemes.
Sagan turns it on, Durbo pops but Impey attacks, the right thing to do, he’s closed down, quickly.
Impey goes again, Sagan brings him back then goes to the front constantly looking back to see what’s what.
Sagan turns it on from the front – he’s hurting them for sure but Matthews has to be favourite, he’s done so little.
Boasson Hagen jumps on the descent with five to go but Sagan closes him down, they’re hurtling down this descent.
Flat road now, Impey will go for sure – he does and Sagan reacts; three K to go now.
Impey tries it again but Sagan covers it easily before it’s even started.
Impey leads into the final, Sagan second, Matthews third, Boasson Hagen, Dumoulin, GVA and there’s the red kite.
They leave it late; GVA reacts first, they all respond and spread across the road, Matthews is initially blocked but finds the space, it’s an elbow to elbow drag race to the line – and Matthews is quickest.
The Aussie has now won a stage in all three Grand Tours.
Naivety on Sagan’s part?
No! – he has his stage win and with his intermediate sprint today took green, any points at the line just add to his advantage.
And he took second so that’s another shed load of points.
Perhaps the Slovak should have done less in the finale – but that’s just not the ‘Sagan way’ and Matthews is damn quick.
Matthews the stage then, Sagan bludgeons himself into green and Froomey is untroubled.
Just another day at the office; sprinter stage tomorrow, oh dear – but we can always hope…