TOUR’15 St.14: Cummings Wins Stunner In Mende
On international Nelson Mandela Day, Stephen Cummings takes the first stage win for an African team.
Race Report: What a day! A 20 man breakaway were the story of the day as the peloton decided to take the day off until the slopes of the final climb of Cote de la Croix Neuve to the airstrip in Mende. As we hit the climb Romain Bardet found his way to the front and blew apart the race with only Pinot, Uran and Simon Yates able to follow. Further down the mountain though the British rider, Stephen Cummings was pacing himself to what would become one of the most incredible victories we’ve ever seen. He was totally absent for so much of the climb, even the wide lens helicopter shots couldn’t find him, but as the race crested the climb, with 1km to go until the finish, suddenly he was there and he blasted past the French duo of Pinot and Bardet to take the stage.
Behind in the GC Quintana exposed weaknesses in the Sky team, which had previously looked impenetrable, but he was unable to put any time into the yellow jersey of Chris Froome.
It’s a very tiring and very hot day in the south of France. We’re climbing for almost all the stage but the real hard ascents start in the final 40km with the Cote de Sauveterre (9km @ 6%), Cote de Chabris (1.9km @ 5.9%) and a finish on the incredibly steep Cote de la Croix Neuve (3km @ 10.1%). We actually finish 1km after the summit but the damage will be done on the climb which starts at 8.3% and continues to ratchet up in steepness throughout the climb.
From the Flag
As has been a common feature of the Tour this year we saw attacks go immediately after the flag was dropped. The first riders to get away were Cyril Gautier (Team Europcar) and Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida). Back in the peloton a break split the group with Thibault Pinot and Steve Morabito (both, FDJ.fr) going down. Unfortunately Morabito was the worst affected and he abandoned after the crash.
The climbing started immediately and that was too much for some sprinters as Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) were chipped off the back. The frantic start soon eased off though as the early attackers were brought back and the dropped sprinters rejoined.
The lull was brief however, and we soon had a break of 24 riders heading up the road: Andriy Grivko (Astana), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ.fr), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Adriano Malori (Movistar), Warren Barguil, Koen de Kort (Giant-Alpecin), Giampolo Caruso, Alberto Losada (Team Katusha), Pieter Weening, Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step), Pierre Rolland, Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing), Ruban Plaza, Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), Bartosz Huzarski, Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne-Seche) and Stephen Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka).
Despite having a rider in the break, IAM Cycling were surprisingly leading the chase in the peloton. The pressure was enough to bring the very large group within view and an inopportune puncture for Talansky reduced the break by one.
Under the pressure from the chase a group of seven riders kicked ahead: Sagan, Uran, Jungels, Pantano, Plaza, Grivko and Ladagnous. Behind there was some organised chaos as the original remnants of the break were being absorbed into the fast moving break and soon we had a new group of 13 rides in pursuit; from the original group we had; Cummings, Pinot, Simon Yates, de Kort, Gautier, Perichon. They were joined by Romain Bardet, Jan Bakelandts (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr), Greg Van Avermart (BMC), Kristijan Koren (Cannondale-Garmin) and Michal Golas (Etixx- Quick Step).
Peter Sagan unsurprisingly took the intermediate sprint points to boost his lead in the green jersey competition. Finally the two groups came back together and the peloton eased off and we had the break of the day leading by a substantial gap of 7 minutes, after an incredibly frantic start!
The Gorges du Tarn
Very little happened in the mid point of the stage but it was like a theme park of beautiful natural and man made sights. We headed under the incredible, British designed Millau Viaduct. It is the tallest bridge in the world with a peak of 343m, this makes it the tallest structure in France, 19m higher than the Eiffel Tower. We were then fed through the Gorges du Tarn, a 53 kilometer long limestone gorge which reaches depths of 600m. In the slight hiatus I was able to plan a late summer trip to the region and as I compared flight costs it was something of a relief to finally see some more action.
The Race is Back On
As we hit the 2nd category Cote de Sauveterre the break’s advantage had reduced slightly but was still greater than 5 minutes and it was clear that we were going to have two races today; a GC race in the peloton and a race for the stage win between the 20 man leading group. The break stayed together on the climb, with Ladagous taking the points, but over the top Michal Golas launched an attack on the false flat summit. He built up a small lead of 20 seconds on the FDJ led group of chasers. The Polish rider was joined by Koren after a hard chase and they linked up before the penultimate climb. The gap was decreasing though and as they rode under the 10km banner erected midway up the climb the gap was barely 10 seconds to Jeremy Roy who was now forced into doing all the chasing to set up his team leader, Pinot, for the finish.
The duo maintained their small lead over the climb with Koren taking the single point. On the descent they managed to push the advantage to 15 seconds after Golas took some serious risks with his companion barely able to maintain contact.
Although the finishing climb is officially 3km long it gradually starts climbing from 5km to go. The duo were suffering now as the pace of FDJ behind sliced their advantage to nothing at the foot of the climb. Golas was the last man standing but he was quickly past by Roman Bardet who pushed the early pace followed by Pantano and Yates. Uran joined them with Pinot on his wheel and it looked like it was going to be a battle between those 5. Bardet pushed on again and it was clear how many people were on the rivet with only Simon Yates able to follow. Behind, Pinot was slowly crawling back with Uran on his wheel as the peloton hit the slope behind.
Bardet went again and Yates was slow to respond although the distance was minimal on these tortuously steep gradients of almost 12%. Bardet was riding away from everyone else but the climbing pair of Uran and Pinot were maintaining their gap. They weren’t closing though yet.
Behind Quintana hit out from the peloton with Nibali and Valverde but Froome was showing signs of weakness and his previously dominant team were now absent.
Up ahead Bardet was leading but his gap was shrinking thanks to the efforts of Pinot and in third place on the road was Cummings who had appeared out of nowhere to be in contention. Quintana was still leading in the pack but his gap was also shrinking as Froome pushed on. Nibali and Van Garderen were losing time on the day.
Cresting the climb the final duo hit the flat section leading to the finale on the airport runway. French great Laurent Jalabert won an epic day here in 1995 and national hopes were high as the French duo looked set to duke it out. Then – BAM! Out of nowhere appears a flying Stephen Cummings, completely surprising the two leaders and pretty much everyone else watching the race.
Cummings gaps shoots into the lead and opens a small gap with just a few hundred meters to go.
The Brit was riding away to victory, after suffering so much on the lower slopes he had now opened a gap and was heading for the win at the airport. He took one of the most extraordinary victories you will ever see in a Tour de France stage ahead of Pinot and Bardet.
Back in the GC battle Froome had linked back up with Quintana and all the other riders had disappeared down the road. The Columbian hit out again and he was again able to put time into Froome. Froome just focused on his power meter and clawed him back as the road flattened out. It was now clear that despite his valiant effort, Quintana wasn’t going to take anymore time back. Valverde was able to get back onto the duo as Froome won the sprint. Contador rolled in behind after losing more time with Van Garderen behind him, the American will lose his 2nd place.
On the day that the World celebrates Mandela Day it’s a victory for the African MTN-Qhubeka team that reminds us all why we love cycling.
Tour de France 2015 Stage 14 Results
1. Stephen Cummings (GBr) MTN – Qhubeka 4:23:43
2. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:00:02
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:03
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx – Quick-Step 0:00:20
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:00:29
6. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:32
7. Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Lampre-Merida
8. Bob Jungels (Lux) Trek Factory Racing
9. Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Movistar Team
10. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica GreenEdge 0:00:33
GC After Stage 14
1. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 56:02:19
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:03:10
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:03:32
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:04:02
5. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:04:23
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 0:04:54
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 0:06:23
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:08:17
9. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal 0:08:23
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing 0:08:53