Michael Rogers claimed a first ever Tour de France stage victory as he outsprinted Thomas Voeckler.
The former Team Sky rider followed up his Giro successes on his return from suspension by taking stage 16, the 237.5 kilometre run from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche finished 60th on the stage, the Tinkoff Saxo rider coming in as part of a group 16 minutes 21 seconds behind Rogers.
Rogers, cleared of wrongdoing in April after a positive test for clenbuterol, and Voeckler, who had Europcar team-mate Cyril Gautier for company in the closing stages, were part of a 21-man breakaway which took shape in three waves from 28km, and they were 12 minutes clear by the time they reached Port de Bales — 35km from the finishing line.
But the Australian made his move 4.5km from the line and it proved decisive to prevent Voeckler from extending his unbeaten run at Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali maintained his overall lead for Astana with his advantage over second-placed Alejandro Valverde remaining at 4’37”.
But there was a reshuffling of the pack behind them as Frenchman Thibaut Pinot jumped to third place 29 seconds adrift, with compatriots Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet in fourth and fifth respectively.
Nibali may be the red hot favourite to maintain his yellow jersey into Paris but the Astana rider is taking nothing for granted. The Italian said: “I don’t underestimate Pinot. I don’t underestimate anyone. I’ve learnt that last year at the Vuelta [racing against Chris Horner].
“When Pinot attacked, I went to catch him straight away. Valverde let a gap. I didn’t let the gap grow.”
Ireland’s Roche remains in 48th place overall on general classification — 1 hour 43 minutes 18 behind Nibali.
Rogers was thrilled to have claimed his maiden victory on a day when he simply refused to be beaten.
He said: “I had the feeling that my stage truly began at the foot of the final climb and at the top, we were only three guys left in the group.
“On the descent, Europcar’s Gautier bridged the gap and rejoined Voeckler, but I just rode as fast as I possibly could on the lower slopes, created the gap and kept the pace up to the finish line. “No-one was going to beat me today. Of course, I’m immensely happy and it’s a good feeling to have a Tour de France stage win on my resume.”
Thomas Voeckler had won the last two Tour stages held in Bagneres-de-Luchon, and came close to the hat-trick yesterday. But the Frenchman had to be content with second place behind Rogers.
“It’s extremely disappointing. Some might be satisfied with second place but it’s not the case for me. I reached the top in second position with Serpa and Rogers.
“We worked together well and then they attacked me in turn. Then Cyril (Gautier) came back and went in the descent. When Rogers countered, he didn’t have the strength to take the wheel. It was real close. If Cyril had been able to follow Rogers, he would have done it. But he’s as disappointed as I am. There were two of us at the front, we have to consider this as a failure.”
Tomorrow’s stage 17 will see the riders travel the 124.5km journey from Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet. With three category one climbs, this is expected to be one of the hardest days of this year’s race, and one of the last opportunities for contenders to make back time on leader Nibali.
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