LYON, France — Italian cyclist Matteo Trentin timed his finish perfectly to win the hilly 14th stage of the Tour de France, while Chris Froome preserved his overall lead by staying in the pack on Saturday.
Froome and the other main contenders were more than seven minutes back when Trentin crossed the finish line in Lyon to become the first Italian to win a stage this year.
Froome managed not to lose any more time to his main rival Alberto Contador ahead of Sunday’s daunting 21-kilometer (13-mile) ascent of Mont Ventoux — one of cycling’s toughest climbs, where Britain’s Tom Simpson collapsed and died during the 1967 Tour.
“I’m concentrating on the GC (overall classification), but of course it would be great to win tomorrow,” Froome said. “In cycling terms it would be like a dream come true.”
Froome, the Tour favorite, lost more than a minute to Contador, the two-time former champion, and Dutchman Bauke Mollema in Friday’s incident-packed sprint stage.
This time, he thanked his teammates for keeping him out of danger on the 191-kilometer (119-mile) leg from the winemaking town of Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule in central France to the east-central city of Lyon, one of the gourmet capitals of France and home to the seven-time French football champion.
“My teammates controlled the stage and did a great job,” Froome said. “Just keeping an eye on things.”
Froome remains 2:28 ahead of Mollema, considered an outsider, and 2:45 clear of Contador, the 2007 and ‘09 champion who was stripped of his 2010 title for doping.
“A lot of people have reason to attack now,” Froome said. “A lot of people spent energy in the last couple of days, so it will be an interesting one.”
Meanwhile, Trentin was overjoyed with his first stage win in a major race.
“I knew that if I started from 200 meters I could win,” he said. “For sure a win in the Tour, this means something. I want to enjoy this because the next days are going to be hard.”
As they contested the sprint outside Stade Gerland football stadium, Trentin surged from the back to beat Swiss rider Michael Albasini by half a wheel. American Andrew Talansky was third.
It was the second straight stage win — and third in the last four — for the Omega Pharma QuickStep team after Mark Cavendish won on Friday and Tony Martin clinched Wednesday’s time trial.
“To be part of this team is incredible,” Trentin said. “When I won the stage all my teammates came to say ‘Congratulations.’”
The first three were followed 7 minutes, 17 seconds later by the heaving mass of riders in the peloton, with Froome’s Sky and Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff teams forming a shield around their star riders.
An 18-man breakaway set off early, with Jens Voigt, Jan Bakelants and British rider David Millar driving it hard to get Garmin-Sharp teammate Talansky — the group’s highest-placed rider in the general classification — in a good position.
Voigt’s first Tour was in 1998 and Saturday’s was his 303rd day of racing in the showcase race in his 16th Tour.
“To be honest, five years too many,” Voigt said when asked why he couldn’t last. “I’m 41, that’s nature.”
The yellow jersey group was about five minutes behind when the front-runners had all completed the second category 3 climb. Those two were the biggest ones of the day but only moderate ascents compared to what awaits the riders on Sunday.
Millar calls the Ventoux climb “horrible” and Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski is dreading it.
“It’s such a legendary mountain that I’m a little bit scared about it,” said Kwiatkowski, seventh overall but nearly five minutes behind Froome.
Sunday is Bastille Day. Judging by the thousands of people who turned out on the roadside to cheer on Saturday, the atmosphere up Ventoux promises to be electric.
Froome’s Sky teammates have clearly struggled in two stages so far — in the Pyrenees in stage 9 and Friday’s flat stage — and he needs them to be at their best to repel any attacks from Contador so he can relax on Monday’s rest day — the second of the race.
“My focus is going to be on keeping yellow, preserving the advantage I have,” Froome said.
A brief of Saturday’s 14th stagee:
Stage: After two days of flat stages for sprinters, the race went back to the hills on a rolling (191-mile) 119-mile trek from Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule to Lyon, featuring two medium climbs and five smaller ones.
Winner: Matteo Trentin got the first win for an Italian rider this year. Trentin timed his attack to perfection to surge from the back in the last 200 meters and beat Swiss rider Michael Albasini by half a wheel. American Andrew Talansky was third.
Yellow Jersey: Chris Froome. The day after losing more than a minute to his main rival Alberto Contador, he preserved his overall margin. The British rider leads Dutchman Bauke Mollema by 2:28 and the two-time former champion Contador is 2:45 back in third.
Stat of the day: 27. The number of categorized climbs weary riders have to face between now and the Champs-Elysees on July 21, when the 100th edition of the race ends.
Quote of the day: “Five years too many” — the 41-year-old German rider Jens Voigt reflecting on why he wasn’t able to last the pace until the end of the stage after forming part of the early 18-man breakaway.
What’s next: Stage 15 returns to mountains for the first of the four tortuous stages of climbing that remain. It is the longest stage, starting from Givors and spanning 242.5-kilometers (151 miles) before ending with a mammoth 21-kilometer (13-mile) ascent of Mont Ventoux. Britain’s Tom Simpson collapsed and died on the famed climb during the 1967 Tour.
Five Things To Know About the Tour on Sunday:
1. LAGGING LEGS — At cycling’s greatest race, sometimes the mind desperately seeks victory, but the legs just don’t cooperate. At 41, Jens Voigt of Germany knows that more than most: The RadioShack Leopard Trek veteran was one of 18 riders — some nearly half his age — who jumped out in an early breakaway in the mostly flat Stage 14, into the southeastern city of Lyon. He’s the oldest competitor this year, riding in his 16th Tour; he has two Tour stage victories in his career and wore the yellow jersey in 2001 and 2005. When asked on Saturday why he couldn’t hold up through to the end, Voigt cited “five years too many,” adding: “Sometimes the legs just don’t do as you like.” Whose legs did perform as he liked on Saturday? Stage winner Matteo Trentin of Italy — 18 years Voigt’s junior.
2. DOPING GHOSTS ... — Cycling has some of the most rigorous anti-doping measures in sport. While no doping cases have been announced at this Tour, the ghosts of cycling’s doping-marred past can be seen at nearly every turn. This is the first Tour after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles for doping — the biggest blemish ever at the 110-year-old race, and the most egregious case from the era of widespread use of performance enhancers from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. Armstrong is persona non grata this year, but other past and present riders who were caught or admitted to doping have been or are here. A few have become crusaders against doping. Others refuse to talk about their doping past or still deny cheating despite sanctions against them. Among those who still deny: Current riders Alberto Contador, a two-time Tour winner, and fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde — both served bans, and Contador lost a Tour title over a failed doping test. Christian Vande Velde, who crashed out in Stage 7, testified in the Armstrong case, admitted to doping in his career, and got a six-month ban. Andrey Kashechkin, who crashed out in Stage 3, was ousted from the 2007 Tour for doping and received a two-year ban. David Millar, who is 96th overall, served a two-year ban but came back to become one of the most vocal foes of doping in the peloton.
3. AND THEN SOME — There’s more. Some riders of yesteryear who were caught or admitted to doping still hover at the Tour. Bjarne Riis, who more than a decade after his 1996 victory admitted to using blood-booster EPO, is manager of Contador’s Saxo Bank team — he’s been here on and off. Matt White, an ex-Armstrong teammate and manager of the Orica GreenEdge team, admitted to doping in his career. A glaring symbol that life and livelihood in cycling exists after doping? France’s Richard Virenque. He was at the center of the 1998 Festina team affair — the first major doping scandal to shake the sport. Virenque later made a tearful confession in court, and has since become a popular commentator and pitchman: A picture of him adorns a radio station’s car in the Tour caravan; another features him in the official race guidebook in an ad for... Festina. Memories of cycling’s most tragic doping case will loom in Sunday’s 15th Stage, when competitors scale the famed Mont Ventoux: British cyclist Tom Simpson died there in the 1967 Tour — exactly 43 years ago on Saturday — after using a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.
4. VAULTING VENTOUX — Southeast France’s lonesome, bald-face mountain of white cretaceous rock — and a home to rare plants also found in tundra landscapes of Greenland or Norway — will host its ninth Tour stage finish. At 242.5 kilometers (151 miles), Sunday’s is the longest ride of the 100th Tour, and will challenge the pack to save up the juice over long flats before a 21-kilometer (13-mile) ascent that’s one of cycling’s hardest. With more than 220 kilometers before the foot of that climb, “it’s going to be horrible for everybody,” quipped Voigt on French TV.
5. CONTADOR’S COMEBACK? — After a dazzling show of race savvy on Friday to erase over a minute of his deficit to race leader Chris Froome, Saxo Bank leader Alberto Contador was feeling better about his Tour aspirations, according to teammate Michael Rogers. The Australian said Contador got a “big morale boost yesterday. It was kind of a turn-the-page moment for the team ...” For his part, the Spaniard said the early part of the Ventoux is “very, very tough” and recalled “how my heart almost came out of my mouth” the first time he climbed it — but found it easier as his ability improved.
Five Things To Know From Friday:
1. FLAT OUT EXCITING: — One of the articles of faith at the Tour is that flat stages tend to be less relevant to the overall standings because it’s hard for individual riders to break away from the tightly wound pack. Not so on Friday: Gusty winds helped breakaway riders split the peloton into pieces, and kept stragglers from catching up. Then, Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who began the day in second place overall, had a breakdown that saw him fall out of contention. Finally, the front bunch split apart too, leaving overall leader Chris Froome behind some key rivals who cut their deficit to the lanky Briton by more than a minute on a stage won by Britain’s Mark Cavendish. Rival title contenders like two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador and two Dutchmen on the Belkin team — second-place Bauke Mollema and No. 4. Laurens Ten Dam — could now sense even more vulnerability in Froome’s once indomitable and feared Sky team.
2. VALVERDE’S VENGEANCE? — Valverde, who Lance Armstrong once called the future of cycling, saw his hopes for an elusive Tour podium spot all but vanish: The 2009 Spanish Vuelta winner was the stage’s biggest casualty after he braked sharply in the feed zone, causing a rider to bump into his bike and break his rear wheel. The Spaniard blamed the mishap on “bad luck” but bristled about the actions of French team Europcar, which pressed the pace as he struggled. He says he’ll try to focus on getting eighth-place teammate Nairo Quintana on the podium, and in a potentially more sinister tone, said: “Maybe we can make the race tougher for those who didn’t help me today, and made it so I couldn’t catch up.”
3. FROOME’S FAITHFUL FRIEND — In bunch sprints at the Tour, that little yellow dot you see in the multicolored mass of jerseys is Froome. And, more likely than not, the rider in blue just in front of him is his Sky teammate Ian Stannard. Stannard’s job in the final kilometers, when the pack is gearing up for a sprint finish and the risk of crashes climbs, is to shepherd the race leader safely to the line. Stannard’s help is “massively, massively important,” said Froome. “I just fix onto his backwheel and try and just follow him around the peloton and he’s got a great feeling of when to move up and where to be at the right time.” Other teams protect their leader by riding around him, several strong. But Sky believe it’s safer for Froome to just hook him up with Stannard alone, because they are more agile as a pair than they would be as a larger group — meaning they can stay out of trouble. “I think a lot of people sort of say, ‘Oh, where’s your team?’” Froome said. “But it’s so much easier just to follow one guy in those final kilometers than trying to line up a whole team and keep the whole team together. And Stannard is a whole team in himself.”
4. AU REVOIR, ANNOUNCER — One of the most impressive Tour records might not be held by a rider, but the race’s announcer. Over 40 years, Daniel Mangeas hasn’t missed a single stage — about 800 in all. His gravelly baritone voice echoes for kilometers each morning, indicating the Tour has come to town. With encyclopedic knowledge of the competitors, Mangeas presents them to fans at the pre-race sign-in. At the finish, he bellows out the final race drama, and voices the daily awards ceremonies. The secrets of his longevity? Honey and cottage cheese at breakfast for the voice and passion for cycling (his parents told him his first words as a toddler after “Mama” and “Papa” were the names of two French cycling greats). Now, at the age of 64, Mangeas says next year’s Tour will be his last. “It’s true, everybody tells me: ‘Say it isn’t so!’” Mangeas said. “But you have to know when to hang things up — even if it tears me apart. I love the Tour de France like you’d love a person.”
5. ON THE RAZOR’S EDGE? — Marcel Kittel’s third Tour stage win on Thursday may have cost Dutch teammate Koen de Kort his hair. Kittel says he and his Argos-Shimano colleague placed a bet that if the German sprint specialist won three stages this year, de Kort would shave his head. “This is going to happen now,” Kittel said.