As expected, it was a battle to make the breakaway and despite sitting only three minutes back on the General Classification at the start of the stage, Van Avermaet was able to join the eight-rider move.
The peloton sat up to allow the breakaway to go six minutes down the road in the flat first 140 kilometers but with Van Avermaet posing a threat to the yellow jersey, Mitchelton-SCOTT started to reduce the advantage approaching the first of three categorized climbs in the final 50 kilometers.
The breakaway split on the early slopes of the category one Col de la Lusette but Van Avermaet showed his strength to stay with a select group featuring Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team), Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb), and Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling).
Van Avermaet was unable to match an attack by Lutsenko in the final kilometers of the climb, instead chasing behind, while refusing to give up, to crest the summit around 45 seconds behind as the fourth rider on the road.
After the descent of the Col de la Lusette, Van Avermaet chased alongside Powless on the eight-kilometer climb to the finish on Mont Aigoual while up ahead Lutsenko soloed to the win and Herrada crossed the line in second place.
Van Avermaet dug deep to out-sprint Powless to finish in third place, an impressive performance from the two-time Tour de France stage winner from a climber-heavy breakaway.
It was an uneventful day for the General Classification group which crossed the line 37 seconds behind Van Avermaet which sees the CCC Team leader move up to 25th on the General Classification, 2:33 behind leader Adam Yates.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was a good day to try something. i was still close on GC so I just gave it a go because it was a bit of an uphill start so it was super hard. We had a super strong breakaway so I just gave it a chance and gave it everything I had but I think Lutsenko was super strong, especially on the steep part [of the climb]. I couldn’t find my rhythm anymore and then it was hard to catch him. I’ve been here on vacation so I knew the climb [Col de la Lusette] a little bit and I knew that if I could survive the steepest part then it would be a better climb for me. In the end, it was good to be out there in front and just give everything I had.”
“It was one of the strongest breakaways I’ve been in at the Tour de France and also with this kind of finish, it was a stage where you never really stop, so because of this we had a little bit of an advantage on the GC guys because they were waiting and on a climb like this, a GC guy cannot make the biggest difference. When I saw Herrada and Lutsenko in the breakaway, also Roche, I knew it would not be easy but on a long breakaway day it’s always different to climbing in the bunch so I just gave my best to see how far I could come. I’m happy with my ride today.”
Tour de France
Stage 6: Le Teil > Mont Aigoual (19km)
Top 3: 1. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team), 2. Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) 3. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team)
CCC Team top 3: 3. Greg Van Avermaet, 36. Ilnur Zakarin, 65. Jan Hirt