Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) won stage 16 at the Tour de France on Tuesday.
Rogers was in the lead group when he attacked 4.5 kilometers from the finish. He then time trialed his way to the line to capture the victory in the 237.5km stage from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) finished second and Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) took third.
With about 10km left, Rogers and Voeckler were joined at the front of the race by Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Kiryienka. The foursome, which was riding together earlier before it broke apart during the fast, 21km descent to the finish from the top of the Port de Balès, a hors category climb, was struggling to work efficiently together when Rogers decided to give it a go.
He immediately broke away from Gautier, with whom he was riding slightly ahead of the other two escapees, and put some real estate between the two. With the road still pointing downhill, Rogers was able to use gravity to help him plunge to the finish. He held a gap of less than 10 seconds as he passed under the flamme rouge, which proved to be enough.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) still leads the race by 4:37 over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), while Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), thanks to an aggressive effort on the Port de Balès climb, slid into third place at 5:06 behind Nibali.
The stage win was the first for the 34-year-old Rogers at the Tour. In May, he won two stages at the Giro d’Italia.
“It’s amazing. I knew once I got to the bottom of the last climb, the race really began for me,” Rogers said. “I knew Tommy Voeckler would be hard to beat. I tried a few times to drop him on the climb, but I couldn’t. I knew I had to outwit them in the final. Voeckler had a teammate behind, and he started playing that game, but I wouldn’t have it. I said, ‘listen, don’t play with me, you’re not going to beat me today, there’s no way.’ On the descent, I thought, I’ve been in this position too many times to lose, I’m either going to crash or I’m going to win today.”
The victory was also sweet for Rogers in the wake of his positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol last fall. After winning the Japan Cup in October, Rogers turned in the test and was suspended when the results were announced two months later.
Rogers maintained his innocence, saying he ingested the substance through tainted meat. The UCI eventually agreed with him and cleared him of wrongdoing in April.
“This year I think I’ve changed mentally, and when it rains, it pours,” Rogers said. “I’ve changed upstairs, I’m more hungry, and opportunities seem clearer to me. I’m not scared of the outcome. I used to be afraid of failure, but once you believe, and you’re not scared of the outcome, things become clearer, and opportunities arise.”
Two battles on the Port de Bales
At the base of the 11.7km climb of the Port de Balès, there were several groups on the road. The lead group consisted of 21 riders but immediately fractured as the road went up. It was quickly down to 14 and continued to break up from there. The Rogers group of four riders formed 5km from the summit.
Gautier tried to break free at one point, but he was quickly reeled in and eventually fell back. Near the top of the climb, with a group of three — Rogers, Voeckler, and Serpa — at the front of the race, Serpa was the first to go. Voeckler tried to follow but could not, and Serpa earned the KOM points.
Meanwhile, several minutes behind the leaders there was another battle brewing between the GC contenders. A group that included Nibali, Valverde, Pinot, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and the other podium hopefuls — along with their helpers — was riding in a tight pack. But as the road continued to go up, the climb took its toll.
Van Garderen fell back about halfway up. When Pinot attacked 4km from the top, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who began the day third overall, fell back as well. Nibali, Peraud, and Valverde matched Pinot’s effort and the group continued to move up the road.
“Movistar just made an insane tempo and it was just too hard,” van Garderen said. “I just kind of didn’t have the legs and felt a bit empty.”
Pinot soon grew tired, however, and raised his arm to call for help. What first appeared to be a request for assistance was actually a request for a teammate. Arnold Jeannesson, who was trailing the group, answered the call and bridged the gap. He jumped on the front of the small pack and upped the pace.
Jeannesson’s strong ride up the rest of the mountain helped Pinot regain some of the feeling in his legs, a fact that was clear when Pinot slingshotted past him near the summit. Nibali followed but couldn’t hold the wheel, and Pinot was able to crest the summit ahead of the group.
Van Garderen lost valuable time on the day to finish 37th at 12:08 behind Rogers, and he is now sixth at 9:25 back in the GC. He began the day 5:49 back, but more importantly was a little more than a minute outside of the podium. Now he sits more than 4:00 off the podium.
“I am really hoping I can bounce [back] tomorrow and recover the legs I had in the Alps,” van Garderen said. “It is not finished. There are still three hard GC days to come, so I am hoping to bounce back.”
Downhill to the finish
With the stage leaders well ahead, the pack of GC riders started their descent to Bagnères-de-Luchon. Pinot sliced through the sweeping turns at top speed, with Nibali, a skilled descender, trailing not too far behind.
Jeannesson eventually caught up to Pinot and the twosome continued to grow. Several hairpin turns on the second half of the descent slowed everyone down and allowed Nibali and a few of the other guys who dropped back on the climb to latch back on.
Six of the riders from that group finished with the same time, while four others were within a minute.
The race picks up with Wednesday’s stage 17, which takes the riders 124.5km from Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet.