Rui Costa won a rainy, mountainous stage 19 of the Tour de France on Friday in Le Grand Bornand. Costa (Movistar) attacked on the final of five climbs, the Col de la Croix Fry, and rode alone to his third career Tour stage win and his second victory in four days.
Andreas Klöden (RadioShack-Leopard) was second in the 204.5-kilometer stage, at nearly a minute. Klöden’s teammate, Jan Bakelants, was third.
Costa won stage 16 in Gap with a solo attack on Tuesday and said that the first win showed him what was possible.
“Today was different,” he said. “I knew I could do it again. It’s always easier when you’ve done it for the first time.”
Chris Froome (Sky) finished with his top GC rivals to defend his overall lead with two days of racing remaining. Froome leads Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) by 5:11. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is third, at 5:32.
“Today was the hardest stage of the Tour,” said Froome. “There was a lot of climbing. It was a hard day. For us, the objective was to follow the wheels, and let the others make the race. The goal was to defend yellow. The team is doing enormous work. Tomorrow is a hard stage as well. Every night I am dead.”
With a breakaway likely to make it to the line, a number of riders were anxious to go on the attack on Friday. None of them could get anywhere, however, and the escapees were back in the peloton until late on the day’s first of five categorized climbs, the hors categorie Col du Glandon, which summited just 33.5km into the stage.
At that point, two men — Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) — jumped ahead of the peloton. Hesjedal was first over the top of the climb, and the pair stayed together for the next climb, the HC Col du Madeleine. The pace set by the 2012 Giro d’Italia champion was too much for Izaguirre, however, and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) jumped across to join Hesjedal.
Hesjedal and Rolland worked together on the rest of the climb and on the ensuing descent, but Rolland eventually dropped his breakaway mate on the lower portion of the day’s third climb, the Cat. 2 Col du Tamié.
The Frenchman found himself alone in the Alps, hunting points to regain the polka dot jersey he wore earlier in the Tour, but a 28-man chase group was hunting him. Among the riders in the group were Costa; Klöden and Bakelants; Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale); Bert De Clercq (Lotto); Marcus Burghardt and Amael Moinard (BMC Racing); Alexandre Geniez (FDJ.fr); Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale); Jesus Hernandez (Saxo-Tinkoff); Mikel Nieve, Romain Sicard, and Ruben Plaza (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Jérôme Coppel and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis); José Serpa (Lampre-Merida); Robert Gesink and Lars-Peter Nordhaug (Belkin); and Tom Dumoulin and Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano).
The group fell in numbers as it marched across the Cat. 2 Col de l’Épine. When the chasers arrived to the Cat. 1 Col de la Croix Fry, which pitched up 20km from the finish, they were just 18 riders, more than nine minutes ahead of the peloton. The race for the stage win was on.
Costa springs his attack on the Croix Fry
When the gap fell to nearly a minute on the Croix Fry, and the rain began to fall hard, Costa attacked. Rolland was riding for top KOM points at the summit, but Costa would not wait when the Frenchman slowed. The Portuguese countered immediately after catching Rolland and was away alone.
Just as he did in stage 16 to Gap on Tuesday, Costa turned the pedals over, riding on his own toward a third career Tour stage win.
Navarro, Bakelants, Klöden, and De Clercq gave chase, with Nieve unable to keep up. As Costa approached the summit of the Croix Fry, his advantage was above 40 seconds. Ahead of them, Rolland pushed on, taking the second-place points over the summit to move within one point of Froome in the KOM standings. If Rolland can erase that disadvantage on Saturday, he will become the first mountains champion since Giancarlo Bellini in 1976 to reclaim the polka dot jersey more than once.
Back in the peloton, Saxo was setting pace to defend its 3:39 teams classification lead over RadioShack, which had two riders on the attack.
“It was a complicated day,” said Contador. “The team classification was there and we decided to pull. It would be a shame to lose it because we are the strongest team. It was impossible to break [the peloton] on the climb or the descent. You have to watch everyone.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) jumped and the bunch did not react. John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) followed and still, Saxo led the peloton without much interest.
Valverde was nine minutes behind Costa and likely riding to set up teammate Nairo Quintana, who entered the stage third overall. The stage win out of the question, Gadret was likely chasing “Balaverde” to defend Ag2r La Mondiale’s team classification position, third overall and four minutes ahead of the Spanish team.
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) waited until high up on the climb to attack, surging near the summit and pulling three men across to Valverde and Gadret. Froome, Quintana, and Alberto Contador (Saxo) were each there. Quintana gave a little stick through the KOM line, but the five riders were together onto the descent.
Up ahead, Costa had nearly a minute on Klöden — enough to celebrate with his team car on the approach to the finish. The win made Costa the first Portuguese rider to win multiple stages in a single Tour since Joaquim Agostinho in 1969.
Movistar has had to reshuffle its ambitions since Valverde lost more than 10 minutes in the crosswinds in stage 13. Now backing Quintana for the GC podium and white jersey, Costa said his stage wins would lift the team.
“The bad stuff is behind us, and we turned the page quickly,” he said. “My results will help give the team some tranquility. We are still riding for Nairo to reach the podium. These results lift my morale, and allow me to believe in myself even more.”
The yellow jersey group rode safely down the descent to Le Grand Bornand in heavy rain, leaving the final GC fight to the race’s penultimate stage on Saturday.
Saturday’s 20th stage measures just 125km and contains six categorized climbs, including the HC finish climb of Semnoz, near Annecy. The 100th Tour finishes Sunday in Paris.
“I am excited,” said Froome. “I know 120km, it’s going to be very hard for someone to make up 5mins on GC. Having said that, the whole team is going to have to stay alert, one final big effort, then we can start to relax on the ride into Paris.”