The first will be last and the last will be first. FDJ’s Alex Geniez attacked first and was the last of the early breakaway to be caught while Thibaut Pinot was sat at the back of the peloton at the start and was the first to win the stage.
Nairo Quintana took the fight to Chris Froome with a series of attacks, his last chance to take first place.
Geniez was the first to attack and was joined by three others who quickly rode away with the bunch happy to take it easy for as long as possible, to save themselves for the intense efforts ahead. On the Col de la Croix de Fer Ag2r were pulling for Romain Bardet to help his bid to defend the polka dot jersey with Jean-Christophe “Tutankhamun” Péraud leading the pace. It’s a long pass and the action happened once the race reached the small road that winds up beyond the ski resort. Alejandro Valverde made the first serious attack from the yellow jersey group, the move was perplexing for those expecting him to defend his podium place, a bold gamble. It all became clear when Nairo Quintana attacked: Valverde was acting as a replay point. José Serpa helped Quintana too and conspiratorial types will note a meeting with Quintana last night.
Sky chased and Froome assumed the work himself when Vincenzo Nibali attacked, their rivalry spurring the yellow jersey into what looked like a personal pursuit. If anything Sky could have let Quintana go it alone with the long descent and the flat Romanche valley section. Keep him at 30 seconds so that by the time the Colombian started the Alpe he’d be fried.
It was just over the top that the race split and Thibaut Pinot surged past Richie Porte to join a move with Ryder Hesjedal, Pierre Rolland, Ruben Plaza – a 35 year old revelation of the Tour – and others. With Geniez up the road Pinot could sit tight in this group as Lampre-Merida and Cannondale-Garmin chased along the Romanche valley. Onto the Alpe and Pinot could still sit tight but this time with only Ryder Hesjedal left to follow. With its smooth surface and wide bends sitting on a wheel helps even on this slope.
In the second race of the day Nairo Quintana launched the early attacks. To use words like “jump” or “attack” is to attribute too much action, he lifts the pace and pulls clear, if caught he repeats this. Movistar got the team work going again with Valverde up the road and Quintana rode across to finally distance Sky. When Valverde couldn’t stand the pace Quintana soon picked up Winner Anacona, his Colombian team mate, named after an Alpe d’Huez stage winner*. It was a day to underline the importance of teamwork:
- With Geniez up the road Pinot could sit tight and force others to chase
- Sometimes accused of racing for himself Valverde was an exemplary team mate and Anacona was a great help for Quintana too
- Froome was paced by Porte and Poels for much of the climb
Pinot finally ditched a valiant Ryder Hesjedal, once again the Canadian seems the type who’d lobby for a four week grand tour as he’s often stronger the longer a race goes on. Pinot too has staged a recovery after a bad opening where many wrote him off. He’s got a tattoo on his arm of solo la vittoria e bella and today he took the beautiful win he wanted. He certainly picks them having taken the Queen Stage of the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse this year too.
Nairo Quintana threw everything he and Movistar had at Froome but the yellow jersey rode a safe race, if Quintana wanted to ride away then so be it, Froome had a cushion of time to give away and set about pacing himself. He was losing time but not drastically so and his lead never looked under threat.
No mention of Alpe d’Huez is complete without the crowds. It’s rowdy in places and you could hear the boos as Froome rode up but at the finish you could hear the cheers when he collected his yellow jersey. Bocht 7 was as packed as ever with the beer flowing free. Adam Hansen finished 124th today and there’s just some laps of Paris before completing his twelfth consecutive grand tour.
* Dutchman Peter Winnen won two stages on Alpe d’Huez in 1981 and 1983 (pictured beating Jean-René Bernaudeau, the Europcar manager). Anacona Senior named his son Winnen but the story goes that hospital staff were confused, Winnen is hardly a Hispanic name. Maybe the form said “Winner”? This was what got written on the birth certificate.