Day one after what possibly has been the toughest stage in Grand Tour history. With Andorra left behind the peloton had to cover 173 kilometers to Lleida. Only one categorized climb and a lumpy profile made for a perfect breakaway scenario. But also the sprinters had an eye on this stage. In the end both perspectives came into play. In a breathtaking finale Jaco Venter lacked only 500 meters to take home the win.
The race started to unfold after only a couple of kilometers when five riders got away. Jaco was one of them. The group worked well together to establish a maximum lead of more then 5 minutes. Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) was fastest over the climb and remained the man to watch at the front.
With 75 kilometers remaining Giant-Alpecin and Trek increased the pace in the peloton and started to whittle down the gap to the leaders. They tried to keep the five in sight. Nevertheless, it started to look good for the break the closer the race got to the finish. The gap was at 2 minutes just 20 kilometers to go and the breakaway riders showed no signs of attacking each other.
The tension at the front grew only in the final 3 kilometers. Bouet shut down the first attack, when Jaco made his move under the Flamme Rouge. It seemed that he could pull it off, but the peloton closed in fast. The Stellenbosch native was reeled in with 500 meters to go.
Danny van Poppel (Trek) was the fastest at the end, beating Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) and Tosh van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal) into second and third. Kristian Sbaragli was the team’s best placed finisher in 8th position.
Fabio Aru (Astana) kept his lead in the GC, with Louis Meintjes staying safe in 10th position.
Jaco Venter – Rider
We wanted to get someone in the break today. After the last few stages we didn’t want to work so much in the peloton looking at a possible sprint, so this seemed to be the best choice. I managed to get into the day’s break but we were never really able to build up a big lead. We tried to push it on the downhills and worked really well together. With 10 kilometers to go I started to think that we would have a chance to stay away, so I tried to save some energy. When the others started looking at each other 1.5 kilometers before the finish I attacked. I gave it everything I had, but when I looked around at the 500 meters mark the peloton was there. I’m disappointed, since it was so close. It was a hard day.
Jean-Pierre Heynderickx – Sports Director
It was again a very active stage. We had Jaco in the break and he was at the front until 500 meters to go. In the end it was a bittersweet stage for us. We tried to keep Kristian in a good position, and he finished 8th. It’s another top10 result for the team, so we can actually be happy.