Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark sprinted away from two other challengers to win Stage 15 of the Tour de France yesterday, while Geraint Thomas had no trouble holding the overall lead for a fourth consecutive day.
The Astana rider claimed his first career win at the Tour after staying ahead of Ion Izagirre and Bauke Mollema in a sprint over the final 200 metres. Cort Nielsen finished the hilly 181.5-kilometre (112.7-mile) leg from Millau that ended in a long descent to Carcassonne in 4 hours, 25 minutes.
“I always kept a little back so I was able to respond if they attack,” said the 25-year-old Cort Nielsen, who won two stages of the Spanish Vuelta in 2016.
Thomas in the yellow jersey, second-placed Chris Froome, and the rest of the overall contenders arrived at Carcassonne and its medieval city walls 13 minutes after the stage winner.
Thomas kept his advantage of 1 minute, 39 seconds over team-mate and defending champion Froome before the race’s second rest today.
“We were always in control,” Thomas said. “We were always in the right place, and it’s a good day to get done.”
That pause precedes three mountain stages in the Pyrenees, followed by the individual time trial on the penultimate day of the race.
“There are three big, big days left, and then the time trial, so (I) just take each day as it comes and we will see what happens,” Thomas said.
It was a placid ride for Thomas before the decisive final week.
The only serious attack by a top-ten rider in the overall standings came from Daniel Martin, the UAE Emirates leader, who tried a getaway while going up the Pic de Nore but was reeled in on the way down.
A breakaway group of 29 riders – none of whom posed a threat to Thomas’s overall lead – got away early.
Cort Nielsen, Izagirre and Mollema dropped the five other remaining escapees before disputing the stage win among themselves. With all three riders sizing one another up, Cort Nielsen stayed in front when they finally broke into a sprint.
World champion Peter Sagan got into the breakaway, and he took third place in the day’s intermediate sprint to all but wrap up the points classification, receiving his 100th green jersey at the finish.
The racing returns tomorrow with Stage 16, a 218-kilometer mountain trek from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon.