The 19th stage of the Tour de France would be the toughest day of racing yet. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) would secure the stage win ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) with race leader, Chris Froome (Team Sky) finishing 3rd.
Although the stage was only a short 138km, it would be toughest day of racing in the Tour de France this year. Starting from kilometer zero with a cat 1 climb, the peloton exploded during those first 15km of uphill. Merhawi Kudus was one of the first attackers on the climb and Daniel Teklehaimanot and Steve Cummings were also very active on the steep gradients.
By the top of the first climb there was no actual break but only around 20 odd riders made up the peloton, including Daniel. On the descent a number of riders were then able to make contact with the front of the race again, Steve and Serge Pauwels were two of the riders were descended their way back into contention. As we hit the valley floor a few more attacks followed which saw Steve join 20 riders in the only real escape of the day. Daniel missed the move initially but then rode across a 45 second gap on his own to join Steve upfront.
The peloton continued to swell as the break rode ahead to a lead of 2 minutes. The break then hit the longest climb of the race, the 22.4km Col de la Croix de Fer where again, the race would explode. The main GC contenders would dictate proceedings from here on while every other rider would just try to limit their losses. The entire break was caught on the HC category climb, except for Pierre Rolland (Europcar), but the Frenchman was soon caught and then later passed by a solo Nibali.
Nibali would start the final climb of the day, the cat 1 La Toussuire with a 2’20” lead over a very select yellow jersey group. Serge was a further minute down the road and Daniel and Merhawi were trailing our Belgian rider by another 45 seconds. The final climb would sort the strong riders from the strongest, and Serge eventually crossed the line in 21st place, good enough to move up 1 more place on the GC to 13th.
Merhawi and Daniel fought valiantly to try and keep our team competition dreams intact, as they crossed the line in 26th and 33rd respectively. Despite their best efforts we would still drop from 2nd to 5th place out of the 22 teams in the team competition, still a respectable result though for our African team.
Serge Pauwels – Rider
Today was a very tough stage. The GC contenders like Contador already started attacking on the very first climb of the day which was a bit surprising and it also made the racing a bit different to the previous days. I could feel the efforts of the last few stages but I remained confident and just stayed within my limits. I was really well supported by my teammates who did a fantastic job for me. Steve Cummings stayed with me on the first climb and then later on also Merhawi, Daniel and Steve again, helped me on the Croix der Fer when the race really exploded. They helped me to make up as much time as possible. In the end I think I actually did pretty well, I didn’t have these big accelerations to follow the best guys but I rode for what I was capable of today and I’m super happy that I could move up one place on the GC. It means a lot of riders were struggling today and I will try and defend it tomorrow with Paris just around the corner.