Tour de France: Dan Martin loses valuable ground

Irish rider has dropped from fifth to seventh as race approaches its conclusion

Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, rides in the pack next to Michal Kwiatkowski and Germany’s Simon Geschke during the 16th stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/Getty Images

Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, rides in the pack next to Michal Kwiatkowski and Germany’s Simon Geschke during the 16th stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/Getty Images

 

This was no gentle run to the foothills of the Alps. As Daniel Martin observed, the Tour de France can be lost on any given day, and this apparently innocuous 100-miles dealt a potentially fatal blow to the Irishman’s ambition to finish on the podium. After a stage dominated by the Sunweb team, who took their third victory in five days with Michael Matthews, Martin lost 51sec to the other favourites when the race split in strong crosswinds with 12km to go; he slipped from fifth to seventh overall.

This was a dire day for Martin’s QuickStep team. In the morning, the Belgian squad lost the former world champion Philippe Gilbert to gastroenteritis. In the afternoon, their points leader Marcel Kittel dropped a host of points to Matthews, winner of both the intermediate sprint and the stage itself, enabling the Australian to gain a maximum 50 points on the day, closing to 29 points behind Kittel.

Martin and the South African Louis Meintjes were the main victims of a high-speed stage dominated initially by a battle between Quick-Step and Sunweb, with the finale buffeted by a strong south-westerly wind. The source of Martin’s travails could be traced back into the highlands, where Kittel slipped off the back of the peloton as it climbed out of Le Puy en Velay, with Matthews “attacking like a maniac”, as he said later.

With Kittel, gone, “the [Sunweb]boys came to the front with big smiles on their faces and rode flat out,” said Matthews. Their objective was to open a decisive gap on the green jersey and a 50-strong group that had formed around him, thus setting up Matthews’s assault on the points award. With the help of Steve Cummings – who had his eye on a stage win for Edvard Boasson-Hagen – they did not relax for over 100km, until after the intermediate sprint on the other side of the Rhône.

By then, the tension could be felt in the peloton as the wind bent trees in the Rhône valley, and the splits began emerging in the final 15km as first Trek-Segafredo and then Team Sky began to force the pace. Within seconds the 120-strong front group was in pieces, as a lead pack of 28 formed, containing all the top 10 overall apart from Martin and Meintjes. Nairo Quintana was in the mix, Alberto Contador further back.

At this critical moment, Martin had only two team mates with him; the four other Quick-Step riders had remained with Kittel, partly because two of them were under the weather. Only Jack Bauer put in any sustained effort, along with Meintjes and his two UAE team mates: their firepower was nowhere near enough, as all the 28-strong leaders – even Froome, Fabio Aru and Quintana – were contributing to the pacemaking up ahead.

In the space of three or four kilometres, Martin’s 13-strong group lost 30sec, and once the race had turned left to take the howling wind on their backs, that was that.

With the lead group travelling at 65kph, the Irishman’s little peloton would have needed to be going at an unfeasible speed to regain contact. He and Bauer received little help – and a certain amount of hindrance from members of Ag2R and Orica – and eventually the Kiwi ran out of gas.

Matthews’s second stage win of the Tour came at the expense of Boasson-Hagen, who is finding new and ever more frustrating ways to finish runner-up. Here, he was poorly placed at the top of the little climb from the Isère in the final kilometre, but made up ground in the final 200 metres as Matthews launched his sprint in the wake of Greg van Avermaet. The Norwegian closed to just under a wheel, while, on Matthews’s right – no sprint here is possible without even a soupçon of controversy – John Degenkolb was waving his arm in annoyance; he had a brief altercation with Matthews after the finish, but his protest went nowhere.

Abruptly, the Alps loom large. The Cols du Croix de Fer and Galibier entail 24km and 28km of climbing respectively – if the Col du Telegraphe “prequel” to the Galibier is included – making them of a scale not seen so far in this race. If the margins remain tight, that is partly because the climbs have been brief and steep. Here the gaps could be counted in minutes.

To jolt the nerves even more, Matthews and Sunweb are bound to target the early intermediate sprint, coming as it does after a second-category ascent where Kittel can be dislodged. It will be a fast start and for many, a grim finish.

Stage 16 results

1) Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) 3hr38m15s. 2) Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data) same time. 3) John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) ST. 4) Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) ST. 5) Christophe Laporte (Cofidis, Solutions Credits) ST. 6) Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) ST. 7) Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) ST. 8) Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) ST. 9) Maciej Bodnar (BORA-hansgrohe) ST. 10) Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Oscaro) ST.

General classification

1) Chris Froome (Team Sky) 68hr18m36s. 2) Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) +18”. 3) Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) +23”. 4) Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) +29”. 5) Mikel Landa (Team Sky) +1:17”. 6) Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) +2:02”. 7) Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) +2:03”. 8) Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) +6:00”. 9) Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing Team) +6:05”. 10) Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) +6:16”.

(Guardian service)

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.