Stage 14 was one of those days where the peloton decides that chasing the day’s breakaway is just not worth the hassle.
An 18-man group was allowed to stay clear as the main contenders were content to save their legs for Sunday’s climb of Mont Ventoux.
Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quickstep was the major beneficiary, claiming his first Tour de France stage win with a well-timed sprint from the remains of the breakaway.
Of course, it was his team’s third win of this year’s race, and second in a row.
Trentin played it smart, saving his energy while his rivals traded attacks and chased each others’ wheels.
The other big winner was Garmin-Sharp’s American tyro Andrew Talansky, who picked up 7’17″ and dragged himself into 12th place on the General Classification, just a handful of seconds outside the top ten.
Talansky now sits third on the best young rider classification, only a minute down on leader Michael Kwiatkowski. Not bad for a relatively benign stage.
Indeed, once Sky came to the front of the peloton to signal their acceptance, with 100km remaining, the large breakaway had little difficulty extending its time gap fairly steadily.
With all of the major sprinters’ teams represented bar Cannondale, and no serious threats to the general classification, there was little interest in mounting a spirited chase.
The day’s attack was started by Jens Voigt (Radioshack), who was quickly joined by Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol), Blel Kadri (AG2R), and French national champion Arthur Vichot (FDJ.fr).
These four were soon joined by a 14-man chase group which included some powerful riders: Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), Talansky and David Millar (Garmin), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), Jan Bakelants (Radioshack), Julien Simon (Sojasun), JJ Rojas and Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), and Trentin.
Early in the stage, Euskatel had driven the pace in the peloton and maintained the gap below a minute, resulting in an average speed of over 50km/h for the first hour, but Sky’s move to the front saw the pace ease and a mood of detente enter the race.
With Sunday’s menu including the climb often rated as the most difficult faced in the Tour de France, the famous Mont Ventoux, there was little appetite for pain from within the main field.
An unsuccessful attempt to bridge to the leaders by Johnny Hoogerland and Damiano Cunego provided the only real excitement.
As the break passed the 50km to go mark, it became clear that the day’s winner would come from the 18 leaders, with Movistar sprinter Rojas the favourite if the race finished in a bunch sprint.
The final 15km saw the race finally come back to life, as mutual trust evaporated from the leaders and the attacks and counter-attacks began in earnest.
Sojasun’s Julien Simon produced the most daring of these, attacking solo with 11km remaining and still leading as he passed under the flamme rouge signaling 1km to the finish.
It was a tremendously gutsy ride from the Frenchman, as his rivals chasing played cat and mouse games with each other, unsettling their pace.
Van Garderen launched multiple attempts to bridge across to Simon, but was unable to succeed, and was eventually dropped by the group.
In the end it was his BMC teammate Burghardt who managed to retrieve Simon, and with a few hundred metres to go the sprint was on.
Albasini went early, with a long range effort that almost succeeded, until the flying Trentin caught him in the last 10 metres.
Ultimately the stage had little effect on the overall race, with no major movement in the general classification, no movement in the green or polka dot jerseys, and most of the teams content to save energy for Sunday.
Sky was forced to lead the peloton for most of the day, but at an intensity that shouldn’t take too much out of their legs.