Greg Van Avermaet won the first mountain stage of the 2016 Tour de France after attacking from the breakaway on the penultimate descent.
Van Avermaet and Thoms De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) were alone after attacking the breakaway after the halfway point but an attack on the descent of the Col du Perthos was enough to open a gap which he was able to increase right to the finish.
Stage 5 was the first mountain stage of the 2016 Tour de France, with six categorised climbs to tackle – four of them being in the final 40km and including the category 2 climbs of the Pas de Peyrol and the Col du Perthus.
It took a while for the day’s break to form with plenty of attacks from the start failing to stick, but eventually there was a group of nine riders which managed to escape after more than 15km of racing.
The riders in the group were Cyril Gautier (AG2R), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) and Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept); together they managed to quickly establish a gap of almost six minutes after 38km gone of the days stage.
This gap held at around 6′ as Team Sky marshalled the peloton, Tinkoff not feeling obliged to work due to Majka being in the breakaway. Despite the terrain being relatively benine until the first of the final five climbs – the category 3 Côte du Puy Saint Mary – at 142.5km, the breakaway wasn’t working well together and it wasn’t long before it split, with Van Avermaet, grivko and De Gendt attacking the break and establishing a leading group of three.
With 100km to go the leading trio had more than 2′ on the six riders still in the chasing group and more importantly they were 12′ ahead of the peloton which was still being led by Team Sky. This gap continued to increase gradually and by the time the leaders were on the Côte du Puy Saint Mary their gap had gone out to 14′ with the chasers now 2’30” behind.
With 50km to go the leading trio still had a lead of 13′ on the peloton, which was being led by World Time Trial Champion Vasil Kiryienka from Team Sky, and 3′ on the chasing group. As De Gendt led the leaders over the top of the category 3 Col de Neronne taking the two mountains points on offer, the pace set by the TT World Champion was too much for many including Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who began to drop out the back.
The gap to the peloton was coming down gradually though and when the trio hit the category 2 climb of the Pas de Peyrol it wasn’t long before Grivko was dropped, leaving De Gendt and Van Avermaet to fight for the mountain points.
He wasn’t the only one, with Vachon and Sicard both dropping back from the chasing group whilst Huzarski was setting strong pace for the others.Riders continued to be shelled from the peloton as Movistar took over at the front from Team Sky, with the gap to the leaders rapidly coming down to 8′.
As De Gendt led Van Avermaet over the top of the climb, Majka sprang out of the chasing group and set off in pursuit of them on the descent, which saw Van Avermaet begin to open a gap on De Gendt.
The pace set by Movistar was relentless and had a devastating effect on the peloton, with only around 30 riders making it over the top with them. Sagan was now 3′ behind them with GC hopeful Vincenzo Nibali also getting dropped and havign a deficit of 1’40” to make up on the descent.
As the leading two riders began the category 2 Col du Perthus it was De Gendt who was leading Van Avermaet onto the climb with the peloton now just 7′ behind. Van Avermaet wanted the stage win though and attacked De Gendt, the Lotto man having nothing to respond with as the BMC rider went away up the road as the virtual maillot jaune, starting the day 18″ behind Sagan.
His attack stuck well and with 15km to go he had opened a decent gap on him with the top of the climb approaching.
As Van Avermaet began his descent, Huzarski had caught Majka and the pair were working hard to try and get up to De Gendt but their gap was still 3’20” up to Van Avermaet, with the peloton now just 2′ behind them.
With 10km to go Van Avermaet had an advantage of 1′ over De Gendt, with the final category 3 climb at the Col de Font de Cère approaching and his gap improving.
Nibali’s gap continued to go out to more than 8′ behind Van Avermaet as the Team Sky led peloton eased off after the tough climbs, happy to let him take the stage win and content that they had done enough to drop Nibali from the peloton, improving Chris Froome’s chances further.
Van Avermaet was able to stay away to take the stage victory with a gap of more than 2′ on De Gendt at the finish and to ride himself in the yellow jersey after Sagan was dropped in the mountains.
On the final descent Romain Bardet (AG2R) put in a small acceleration to try and gain some seconds on the GC rivals, with Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Thibaut Pinot reacting immediately to the attack with Chris Froome being brought back up to them by a teammate. Alberto Contador was distanced once again and had to fight hard to get back to the GC group, which he was unable to do and lost more time to his rivals.
Tour de France Stage 5: Limoges to Le Lioran (216km)
1. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC – Bel) 25:34:46″
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep – Fra) +5’11”
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar – Spa) +5’13”
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha – Spa) +5’14”
5. Chris Froome (Team Sky – GBr) +5’17”
6. Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin – Fra)
7. Nairo Quintana (Movistar – Col)
8. Fabio Aru (Astana – Ita)
9. Pierre Rolland (Cannondale – Fra)
10. Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep – Irl)