For the first time in his career, two-time Austrian champion Patrick Konrad won a bike race outside his national championships – the 29-year-old Bora-Hansgrohe domestique holding off a large chase group to win the first of three successive days in the Pyrenees.
Runner-up in Stage 14 at Quillan, Konrad went one better on Tuesday after making his decisive move with 73km remaining. Leaving a chase group of 10 riders in his wake, Konrad bridged over to a leading trio on the Col de la Core – the second of four categorised climbs on the menu.
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Mindful of the duo of fast finishers behind in the form of Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) and Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Konrad then kicked clear of Belgian Jan Bakelants (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) and Frenchman Fabien Doubey (Team TotalEnergies) on the Col de Portet-d’Aspet.
Frenchman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Italian champion Colbrelli led the chase on Konrad, cresting the summit of the climb with a deficit of 25 seconds. But the gap grew on the infamous descent where the late Italian Fabio Casartelli tragically lost his life in 1995, with Gaudu and Colbrelli eventually sitting up and waiting for the Matthews chase group to bridge over.
Konrad still held around 55 seconds after the short fourth-category climb inside the last five kilometres, a gap which allowed the Austrian to savour the moment as he took the biggest win of his career. Despite a late dig by Frenchman Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis), Colbrelli pipped Matthews on the ramped finale for second place at 42 seconds as the Australian slashed Mark Cavendish’s lead in the green jersey standings to 37 points.
The surviving remnants of the breakaway arrived in dribs and drabs before there was a yawning gap of almost 14 minutes before Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) led a small group of top 10 riders over the line.
There were no changes in the top 10 with Pogacar, the Slovenian defending champion, retaining his advantage of 5’18” over Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) ahead of back-to-back summit finishes in the Pyrenees.
A rather subdued and sodden start to the 169km stage from El Pas de la Casa in Andorra saw Kasper Asgreen ride clear in the opening kilometre to open up a gap of one minute on the long descent to the foot of the first of four categorised climbs.
On the Col de Port, the Dane was joined by his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Mattia Cattaneo and Ineos Grenadier rider Michal Kwiatkowski. A flurry of attacks came thick and fast from the main pack with Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) quite active and the yellow jersey even showing his hand.
The leading trio were swept up by a strung-out peloton on the technical descent – not before Asgreen almost came a cropper on one of the numerous hairpin bends. After a cagey opening two hours, Chris Juul-Jensen (Team BikeExchange), Doubey and Bakelants managed to steal a march over the peloton ahead of the intermediate sprint.
Bakelants won the intermediate sprint while, behind, Matthews pipped Colbrelli to take the points for fourth place and keep the pressure up on Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Cavendish in the green jersey battle. The Manxman had been off the back, but rejoined the peloton when the pace eased on the Col de la Core once a group of 11 riders finally got clear.
Joining Colbrelli and Matthews in the chase group were Konrad, Gaudu, Perichon, Tom Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-Citroen), Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious), Alex Aranburu (Astana-PremierTech), Lorenzo Rota (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) and Franck Bonnamour (B&B Hotels).
Konrad, who had been an active presence on the front even after Asgreen’s initial attack, ditched the chasers and joined the leaders before passing over the summit in pole position, replacing Juul-Jensen as the Dane felt the pinch and was dropped. An acceleration by Frenchman Gaudu forced a selection – with Colbrelli notably on the right side of the split – but things came back together on the descent, with Cosnefroy the only rider definitively tailed off.
On the third climb, the Col de Portet-a’Aspet, Konrad rolled the dice early with 36km remaining to drop Bakelants and Doubey as Gaudu piled on the pressure behind. Colbrelli was the only rider able to match the pace of the double Vuelta stage winner – although the two went over the summit 25 seconds down and with it all to do.
Konrad kept his cool on the technical descent before surviving the short final climb and the ramp to the line without the victory ever being in any serious doubt. Third place for Matthews saw the Australian keep the pressure on Cavendish in the battle for green, while Colbrelli’s second place saw the Italian himself move above the Belgian Jasper Philipsen in a distant third place.
Trailing the leaders by the best part of 10km, the peloton seemed to be soft-pedalling its way to the finish until an acceleration by Cofidis duo Guillaume Martin and Simon Geschke provided a launchpad for Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma on the final climb.
The Belgian champion kept pulling over the summit to force a split in the pack – but a split without any consequence given the presence of all of the riders in the top 10. This ensured that there was no change in the general classification ahead of Wednesday’s 178.4km Stage 17, which finishes on the Col du Portet following gruelling ascents of the Col de Peyresourde and Col de Val Louron.
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