On a flat stage 18 of the Tour de France that seemed destined for a bunch kick, a determined breakaway managed to foil the sprinters, and Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step) stormed to his first career Tour stage victory.
The 28-year-old Dane hit the line just ahead of breakaway mates Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto-Dstny) and Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X) with Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) arriving on the same time in fourth. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) finished safely in the peloton to retain his yellow jersey.
- Asgreen, Abrahamsen, and Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Dstny) got clear in the early goings in what seemed like a move with little chance for success on the 184.9 km stage from Moûtiers to Bourg-en-Bresse, especially given the tight leash the peloton gave them, never letting them get more than a few minutes.
- Eenkhoorn decided to try to bridge across midway through the stage, and he did so despite the efforts of Philipsen, who at first followed Eenkhoorn and then cut him off, seemingly in an attempt to discourage him from attacking. Eenkhoorn ultimately bridged across to make it a four-rider move anyway. As of this writing, race officials were looking at footage of Philipsen but have not penalized him.
- With 30 km to go, the gap was down to around 45 seconds as Alpecin-Deceuninck, Lidl-Trek, and other squads had worked hard all afternoon at the front. Then, however, the sprinters’ teams took the proverbial foot off of the accelerator. With the breakaway riders working well together, the quartet rode into the final few kilometers still holding onto a gap.
- Alpecin-Deceuninck hit the front under the flamme rouge with a few seconds still to make up, but Campenaerts put in a huge pull in the breakaway and the other three escapees then battled for the victory, with Asgreen sprinting to a convincing win.
- Kasper Asgreen (Soudal-QuickStep) 4:06:48
- Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto Dstny)
- Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X)
- Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
- Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) all at same time
- Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) 67:57:51
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) @ 7:35
- Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) @ 10:45
- Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers) @ 12:01
- Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) @ 12:19
- As if the profile weren’t enough reason to assume that Thursday’s stage would be one for the sprinters, the way things developed through the afternoon only offered more reason to doubt the breakaway’s chances at first, with the peloton giving them very little space. When it seemed clear that the move would be caught, however, the sprinters’ teams decided to let the pace slacken.
- The break was possibly helped by a canny bit of late riding from Soudal Quick-Step, which came to the front as the race approached Bourg-en-Bresse and seemingly slowed the chase for a few moments, while out front, the breakaway riders were working very well together, and it likely mattered that both Asgreen and Campanaerts are excellent time triallists.
- Some inter-team dynamics also played a role. Even as it became clear that the move suddenly did have a chance in the last 10 km, there was still an underwhelming effort in pursuit from the peloton, with teams seeming uninterested in taking on the burden of chasing to set up another win for Philipsen. At the finish, Alpecin director Christoph Roodhooft nodded to the lack of cooperation in the final, saying “one more guy would have been enough to close [the gap] completely.”
- Philipsen, who finished fourth on the day, did increase his lead in the points classification, but he didn’t make many friends on the day with his tactics trying to keep Eenkhorn in check.
What’s next: stage 19
There’s another breakaway vs. sprinters stage on tap for Friday with a 172.8 km ride from Moirans-en-Montagne to Poligny. The course is quite a bit lumpier than today, but there are only two categorized climbs. The final 40 km are anything but straightforward, however: the Category 3 Côte d’Ivory (2.3 km at 5.9%) comes less than 30 km from the finish, and then the final 20 km are flat, with a nearly 10 km stretch to the finish that goes in a dead-straight line, with barely even a roundabout to disrupt things. That final climb could interrupt the break’s rhythm and see opportunistic attackers go clear, while the exposed run to the finish could advantage the chasing pack if there are cross- or headwinds. Much of that chase depends on which riders are in contact after that final climb, of course.
Quote of the day
Kasper Asgreen acknowledged just how well things went for a small breakaway group in the end on a day that seemed destined for the sprinters. He was also gracious in his gratitude to his fellow escapees after taking his first Grand Tour stage win.
“Obviously the situation was not ideal. I would have preferred to have gone with maybe six or seven or eight. It’s also the last week of the Tour and we’re coming off some really hard weeks and we’ve seen it before that even a small group can manage to cheat the sprinters’ teams. I didn’t rule it out,” he said.
“I really couldn’t have done it without Pascal, Victor, and Jonas. They all did amazing out there. To be honest we all deserved to win with the work we put in but I’m really happy to come away with it.”
- Wout van Aert left the Tour de France on Thursday morning.
- As Joe Lindsey writes, spectators on the Tour route are causing chaos.
- Orbea’s new Orca is one for the climbers.
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