RISOUL, FRANCE (AP) — The final day in the Alps saw Tour de France riders relieved to see the end of several days of scorching temperatures and only one flat stage away from their next rest day.
There was no shakeup in the overall classification after the 177-kilometer (110-mile) mountainous stage, won by Rafal Majka, for Poland’s second ever Tour stage win.
Here are five things to know about the Tour on Saturday:
HIGH POINT FOR RODRIGUEZ: Spanish rider Joaquim Rodriguez went first across the highest point of the Tour, the 2,360-meter Col de l’Izoard. That earned the Katusha rider the 5,000 euros ($6,700) Henri Desgrange prize, named after the Tour founding father and handed out annually to the first rider who crosses the Tour’s highest peak. The move also earned Rodriguez, who finished third last year, the coveted red and white polka dot jersey awarded to the Tour’s top mountain climber. Rodriguez said he’ll try to keep the jersey, won last year by Colombian Nairo Quintana, as the Tour heads next week into the Pyrenees. “It’s close to home, I will feel stonger in the Pyrenees,” Rodriguez said. The last time the Tour route took in the infamously hard Izoard climb was 2011, when Kazakh rider Maxim Iglinskiy won.
NATURE CALLS: Bathroom breaks for riders are frequently taken by the side of the road, ocassionally earning them small fines if not done with enough discretion. French sprinter Arnaud Demare couldn’t have been more discreet when nature called on Saturday near the top of the Col du Lauteret climb: Wearing the red, white and blue-striped jersey of the French champion, Demare sprinted ahead of the pack accompanied by a teammate, and stopped at one of the countless camper vans along the roadside. Then Demare, who’s riding his first Tour, simply popped in the open door, and was greeted as if he was expected by the van’s owners. The quick stop was caught on camera, eliciting an outpouring of bathroom humor on social media. Demare exited the van not entirely relieved, as he later stopped at the Tour medical service where he was diagnosed with “recurring digestive trouble.” He managed to finish in a large group of sprinters bringing up the rear, nearly 28 minutes behind stage winner Rafal Majka.
PERAUD BREATHLESS: Jean-Christophe Peraud suprised even himself with his third-place finish in Risoul. The AG2R rider slumped to the ground against a water truck meters after the finish line and took several minutes to regain his breath. When he could finally speak, Peraud declared himself “super satisfied” with his ride, finishing 26 seconds behind stage winner Majka and only 2 seconds behind yellow jersey-holder Vincenzo Nibali. “I’m happy with the result. Just staying on Nibali’s wheel was an act of courage,” Peraud said. Peraud, who won this year’s hilly Criterium International in Corsica, left in his wake a who’s who of the Tour’s top climbers, including Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and American Tejay van Garderen. He is one of four Frenchmen in the top 10 overall, 6:08 behind Nibali.
VAN GARDEREN MISSING HIS KICK: Top U.S. rider Tejay van Garderen was just shaded by French mountain goats Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet on the uphill finish in Risoul. The 2012 white jersey winner came in four seconds behind them, his main rivals for a place on the Tour’s final podium. Van Garderen said he’s “definitely looking forward to the rest day” on Monday in Carcassone. “It was a long stage, a long, slow first climb that was a grind for like an hour-and-a-half, just mentally hard,” Van Garderen said outside his BMC team bus. Sporting three bandages on his right leg and a fourth on his left, Van Garderen said crashes earlier in the race had taken a toll. “I feel like I’m not too responsive right now. I don’t have the same kick that guys like Pinot have. That may be partially because of the crashes,” Van Garderen said. “I should come around in the Pyrenees.” Van Garderen sits fifth overall, 43 seconds behind Pinot, and 59 seconds behind Bardet. The American, who finished second on the legendary Alpe d’Huez stage last year, said he’ll rely on his strong time trial skills to make up time on the penultimate stage. “So, if I can just stay close enough to them, I’m pretty confident I can move ahead,” Van Garderen said. “I would say if I’m within a minute of them then I have a chance.”
VALLS: France Prime Minister Manuel Valls followed Saturday’s stage in the red officials’ car along with Tour boss Christian Prudhomme. After the race Valls, who was born in Barcelona, was at the finish line to congratulate fellow Catalan Joaquim Rodriguez, the polka dot jersey holder. Noting he has a son also named Joaquim, Valls praised Rodriguez but was quick to add a word for the French riders in the race. “Allez les Bleus (Go Blues)” Valls said, using the nickname given to France’s national sports teams. Valls said the Tour, with four French riders in the top 10 overall, was a “beautiful occasion” to boost the country’s confidence, which has been hard hit by economic malaise and perpetual disappointment with its politicians. “Watching this gives me strength and the will to go on,” Valls said. He will return for the final stage which starts in Evry, the Paris suburb he ran as mayor from 2001 to 2012.
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