CCC Team was on the attack as soon as the flag dropped with Joey Rosskopf, Pauwels, and Geschke all trying to force moves one after the other in the opening forty kilometers.
It wasn’t until after the first of four climbs of the day, the category three Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées, when a breakaway finally went clear with 34 riders, including Geschke, Pauwels, and Van Avermaet, part of the large group.
The peloton sat up to allow the breakaway’s advantage to quickly stretch out to a maximum of eight minutes on the category one Col de Vars, with the breakaway cresting the summit altogether.
Van Avermaet tried his luck with an attack from the breakaway approaching the foot of the Col d’Izoard and was joined by Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) with the duo extending their advantage to two minutes over the chase group, with Geschke and Pauwels, to lead the race on the third climb of the day.
The fast start to the stage, hot weather, and steep gradients of the Col d’Izoard caused the chasing group to split and the peloton rapidly reduce to less than 20 riders while up ahead, Van Avermaet lost contact with Bernard five kilometers before the summit.
Pauwels, who was initially dropped from the first chase group, made his way back on and was joined by Van Avermaet when the group caught him, but both Belgians were unable to hold the pace in the last kilometers with the select chase group catching Bernard just before the summit.
Eight riders were left in front but Pauwels put in a big effort to rejoin the group on the descent while behind, Van Avermaet was in the chase group 40 seconds behind and the General Classification group a further five minutes back entering the final 70 kilometers of racing.
With the iconic Col du Galibier looming, Geschke caught Van Avermaet’s group on the descent and together, they rejoined Pauwels at the front of the race with 50 kilometers to go.
Another attack from Greg Van Avermaet and Serge Pauwels on the approach to the final climb put the group under pressure and saw six riders, including Pauwels, go clear with a 30-second advantage.
Pauwels eventually lost contact eight kilometers before the summit when Quintana launched his ultimately stage winning move, but continued to push hard on the climb and the 20-kilometer descent to the finish line to finish in ninth place on the stage.
Van Avermaet’s aggressive racing was rewarded with the most combative rider award, which saw the Belgian take a trip to the podium and don the red number on stage 19.
Quotes from the Finish Line
“The goal was to be in a big breakaway with either Simon or myself, or even more, so it was really good to have three riders. We spoke with each and as Simon wasn’t feeling great, we decided to play my card and Greg rode really strong by anticipating before the Izoard so he did an amazing job to put me in a good position on the bottom of the Galibier. In the end, there were some stronger riders like Quintana and Bardet but I think I can be happy with a top ten result in this stage, as this was probably one of the hardest stages I’ve done in the Tour de France and it was one I wanted to focus on. I think we showed our stripes and we can be happy with how we rode today.”
Greg Van Avermaet:
“Our goal was to win a stage. It hasn’t happened so far but we are trying as much as possible and doing the best we can. Yesterday I was third, I have finished fourth or fifth a few times and so, it’s not too bad and, of course, all of the other guys have tried to do something in the breakaways. We are trying and we are representing CCC on the TV which is also important for us.”
“It was a super hard day, one of the hardest of the Tour so far but it was good to be in the breakaway with two of my teammates, Pauwels and Geschke. In the final, we worked for Pauwels and on the Izoard, I just tried as hard as possible to put Serge into as good a position as I could. It was a super hard day. I went quite deep as well to get my 75 kilograms over the climbs. It was not easy but overall, I had good feelings and I am happy with what I did.”
“The opening 50 kilometers were very tough so, I was happy when I saw two teammates up there with me. We worked really well together with Greg then launching that attack as we tried to use our strength in numbers. Greg was able to have a little bit of a head start going onto the second to last climb and then we could set Serge up for the last climb and put the better climbers under a bit of pressure We were in very good company though with riders like Bardet and Quintana. On a day like today, you can always fight and that’s what we did very well, but it was just too hard of a stage to play tactically and find a way for us to win.”
“I wish I would have had better legs today. In the beginning, I didn’t feel too good but then throughout the day, I started to get better but I was still happy that Serge had the legs to do what he did as I was feeling not so good. It was nice for him to be able to go for a result for us and Greg taking the combativity prize on a stage like this was a nice reward too. I think overall we did a good job.”
Tour de France
Stage 18 Embrun > Valloire (208km)
Top 3: 1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team), 2. Romain Barder (AG2R La Mondiale), 3. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team)
CCC Team top 3: 9. Serge Pauwels, 30. Simon Geschke, 32. Greg Van Avermaet