Wout van Aert on Friday picked up his second win of the year’s Tour de France as aggressive tactics and crosswinds combined to produce an enthralling race that claimed several victims.
British rider Adam Yates retained the yellow jersey, while Peter Sagan took the green points jersey, after his Team Bora-Hansgrohe led a carefully plotted and brilliantly executed attack to drop his sprint rivals.
Yates said he had been expecting an easy day, on what was billed as a straightforward flat run through France’s rugby club heartland around Albi, ahead of two monster Pyrenean stages.
“It was full gas all the way today. From start to finish, there were anxious moments,” said Yates, whose rivals Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, Colombian Richard Carapaz, Spaniard Mikal Landa and Australian Richie Porte all trailed home 1 minute, 21 seconds adrift.
The plot unfolded from 150km as Bora-Hansgrohe launched an unexpected assault, cranking up the pace with attacks that succeeded in exploiting the crosswinds, splitting the pack and shedding Sagan’s rivals in the points classification — Irishman Sam Bennett, who started the day in green, and Australian Caleb Ewan.
“Our director was against the idea at first, but we did this once in 2013 and it worked — I won,” said Sagan, who only came 13th after his bike lost its chain at a critical moment in the sprint.
Egan Bernal, the 23-year-old Ineos leader, seemed unconcerned by teammate and compatriot Carapaz’s plunge down the standings.
Carapaz, a Giro d’Italia champion, has always looked like a backup plan for Ineos.
“Today was okay. I’m more focused on the weekend with two really hard mountain stages,” said Bernal, who performs remarkably well on the plains. “I’m going back to my bus to relax and focus on the mountains.”
Team Jumbo-Visma all-rounder Van Aert also won Stage 5 and on Friday outsprinted a small leading group.
“All the sprinters were dropped already and afterward, it was totally hectic,” Van Aert said at the finish line.
“It was a good day for the team, as some favorites from the GC [general classification] lost time, too,” said Van Aert, whose team leader, Primoz Roglic, is the Tour favorite.
“I got a slipstream, found a gap and timed my sprint perfectly,” Van Aert said. “But this is more of a surprise than the last win.”
The stage embarked within sight of the 336m-high Millau Viaduct that reaches across the Tarn Gorge, where winds also hit the Tour last year.
“Everyone expected a quiet day before the mountain, but Bora had their ideas. It was very hard from start to finish,” Yates said. “It means that the next two days will be harder.”
Saturday’s run from Cazeres-Sur-Garonne to Loudenvielle features two category 1 mountains and one beyond-category climb, but both of the weekend races end with dangerous descents.
“They’ll be going for it,” Yates predicted when asked if he feared attacks. “I need to get on my computer and do a bit of recon, but I don’t mind racing downhill, especially on those big Pyrenean roads.”
Today’s Stage 9 has five climbs on its 153km run from Pau to Laruns, ending in a 20km descent.
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