The last ride in the high mountains was set for today on the Tour de France, with a gruelling stage 18 between Méribel and La Roche-sur-Foron. To conclude the Alpine part of the Tour, Sébastien Reichenbach and Rudy Molard, who turned 31 today, spent a large part of the day in the front. The two climbers did not manage to get a big result at the end but showed the right spirit, like the Groupama-FDJ team did over the last few days.
“We gave our best”, Rudy Molard
Only one mountain stage was left to be covered in this 107th edition of the Tour de France. But what a stage that was. Over the whole three weeks of racing, stage 18 was indeed the toughest in terms of elevation gain: 4,550 meters. A demanding menu on paper, but still an interesting one for many teams still looking for a victory. Like Groupama-FDJ. “It was the last chance to enter a breakaway that could for sure develop and make it until the end,” said Philippe Mauduit. “We really believed in the breakaway’s chances today,” said Rudy Molard. “We did not imagine a leader’s team to control so we wanted to fight in order to be in front”. The 31-year-old rider managed to do so after ten kilometers, in the company of the Swiss champion Sébastien Reichenbach, but also with more than twenty other opponents. “The group got away on a hill, it went hard, and there were therefore some very good riders in the lead.” Although it was quite substantial, the breakaway was allowed to gain a real advantage as it did not included dangerous men regarding the general classification. The leading riders then remained more or less together in the first climb of the day, namely the Cormet de Roselend, but it then exploded at the bottom of the Col des Saisies.
Five riders broke away, while Sébastien Reichenbach and Rudy Molard dropped back in a chasing group. The leading group never stopped increasing its advantage, including in the Col des Aravis. Eventually, Michal Kwiatkowski and Richard Carapaz (Ineos) went away together in the last categorized climb up to the plateau des Glières. “It was difficult to compete for the win, but we gave our best, we have no regrets,” said Rudy at the finish. “I had been on the attack for several days, trying to escape, but it never happened. I succeeded on my birthday, that’s cool, but it wasn’t an easy day. It was even one of the toughest of the Tour, it was pretty brutal”. Since the favourites caught them in the final climb, Sébastien Reichenbach (22nd) and Rudy Molard (30th) were unable to get a very convincing result at the finish. “We can’t blame them, they bravely tried their luck, insisted Philippe Mauduit. Anyway, you won’t ever have the opportunity to seek a stage win if you stay in the bunch. They just came across stronger riders today, there is nothing to complain about. We are not going to be satisfied with a top-30, but we can be satisfied that they tried. It was again a very gruelling stage on paper today, and the pace was brutal yet another time.”
“We have nothing to lose”, Philippe Mauduit
At the finish, Michal Kwiatkowski got the day’s victory, crossing the line alongside his Ecuadorian teammate. The Tour now leaves the high mountains and will head to the Jura on Friday towards Champagnole but there won’t be proper climbs along the way. “For Sagan, it will be another opportunity to take back some points on Bennett,” said Philippe. “Are his teammates going to be able to do what they have done 2-3 times? We do not know yet. The bunch is completely exhausted tonight. We’ll find out after an hour of racing tomorrow. In any case, as far as we’re concerned, there is nothing to lose. Even though there is a very high probability that a big group will arrive together, it is still only a probability. It will depend on many things, but the profile is not that simple and there may be something to do. Depending on what happens in the first 15 minutes of racing, we’ll know if the breakaway has a chance to go for the stage win or not”.