Tour de France Stage 11: Gallopin claims the glory in Oyannax
Tony Gallopin celebrates victory on stage 11. (Image:www.letour.fr)

Tony Gallopin and the Lotto Belisol team have enjoyed a magnificent three stage run at the Tour de France. Gallopin took the race lead in Mulhouse on Sunday, wore the Yellow Jersey on Bastille Day, and capped that run of success off after the rest day, with this excellent victory in Oyonnax. Gallopin broke costless from the leading bunch on the short but steep unclassified climb which came after the Côte d'Échallon. He led on the descent towards the finish in Oyannax but was caught with 5km to go by Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo). That leading quartet worked together briefly but after a short burst from Kwiatkowski, Gallopin attacked again, leaving his companions behind with 2.5km remaining and racing his way to a terrific victory.

The pursuers would likely have caught him had they responded swiftly enough, but neither Sagan nor Kwiatkowski seemed willing to commit to the pursuit, preferring to save some energy for the finish and hoping someone else would take up the chase. While there was little reason for Rogers to chase, he was outfought by his fast-finishing companions, and the BMC led peloton that was closing in behind contained his team mate Daniele Bennati. Their hesitation proved decisive as Gallopin was too strong, and the finish too near, for anyone to catch him and spoil the French party.

The stage started normally enough, a small break featuring Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne - Seche), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling), established itself quite early. Cannondale and Orica GreenEDGE had a potentail stage win on their minds and kept the leading trio in check, with the Cannondale assuming the lion’s share of the work. By the time the race reached the first classified climb it was just Elmiger alone in front and his lead had fallen to less than one minute.

The peloton was closing fast behind, somewhat surprisingly being propelled along by the Garmin-Sharp team, despite their erstwhile leader, Andrew Talansky, suffering on his own at the rear of the race. Talansky was struggling with injuries sustained in crashes on stages eight and nine, he was already out of the GC battle but looked to be in real danger of being forced out of the race altogether today. He deserves huge credit for fighting his way through the stage, finising on his own, 32:05 behind Gallopin, but inside the time limit.

With Talansky no longer a factor, Garmin-Sharp switched their focus to stage hunting and set a furious pace on the Côte de Rogna, dropping the majority of the sprinters, and providing a launch pad for Tom-Jelte Slagter to attack the peloton. That move prompted a flurry of attacks from the punchier riders in the peloton over the next 15km; when the dust finally settled Elmiger had been joined at the head of the race by Jan Bakelants (OPQS), Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Jesus Herrada (Movistar).

With the peloton encroaching behind, Roche attacked twice on the final categorised climb, the Côte d'Échallon, dropping his companions and briefly seeming to increase his lead. However once the peloton had crested the climb, Tony Martin (OPQS) led such an aggressive descent that he not only caught Roche, but also caused splits in the peloton behind. The groups were coming together on the final uphill section of the day when Gallopin seized the opportunity to break costless and claim a memorable victory.

There would be scant reward for Peter Sagan and his Cannondale team, they had done the majority of the chasing throughout the day, but when Gallopin attacked Sagan had only an obviously exhausted Alessandro De Marchi in support. De Marchi chased as best he could, but ultimately it fell to Sagan himself to lead the pursuit of Gallopin on the descent. If Cannondale had just one more rider in the front group at that point, they could probably have brought Gallopin under control and given Sagan the reduced bunch sprint he so dearly craved, though he may have found John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) difficult to overcome in said sprint. It was the versatile German who led the peloton across the line to claim 2nd behind Gallopin.

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