Tour de France: Asgreen wins stage 18 as breakaway stuns sprinters

Escapees dash for the line metres ahead of peloton

Clock17:10, Thursday 20th July 2023
Kasper Asgreen wins a thrilling stage 18 of the Tour de France

© Velo Collection / Getty Images

Kasper Asgreen wins a thrilling stage 18 of the Tour de France

Stage 18 of the Tour de France was a flat, straightforward affair, and for most of the day it followed the most standard of sprinting scripts, but the breakaway turned the tables in thrilling fashion, with Kasper Asgreen (Soudal-QuickStep) claiming the honours in a four-man sprint mere metres ahead of the peloton.

It was an emotional victory for the Dane, who has had a rough year since his early exit from last year’s Tour, and the first of the race for his team, who have also had a rough time here, but it was also a collective victory the art of the breakaway as a whole.

What made it so remarkable was the fact that the peloton was in such a miserly mood, allowing the escapees little over a minute for the whole 184.9km run from Moûtiers to Bourg-en-Bresse. There was even a controversial moment with 80km to go as Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deuceninck), winner of four sprint stages already, personally tried to block Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto Dstny) from attacking the bunch to join the break.

At the time it seemed an unnecessary throwing of weight, and it may leave a sour taste for many, but Philipsen’s anxiety ultimately proved well-founded as Eenkhoorn added invaluable firepower to a group that contained his team-mate Victor Campenaerts, as well as Asgreen and Uno-X’s Jonas Abrahamsen.

With 23 seconds going into the final 10km, and 13 seconds going into the final 5km, it still looked doomed for the breakaway until the very last, as they looked around in the final 500 metres and realised they’d be sprinting for the win.

Campenaerts led it out, with Abrahamsen the first to launch just before Asgreen opened the taps 200 metres from the line. Eenkhoorn sprinted in his slipstream but couldn’t come around and bashed his bars in frustration as he settled for second place, with Abrahamsen third.

A split-second later, Philipsen crossed the line, winning the bunch sprint ahead of Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) and Cees Bol (Astana Qazaqstan), but for the meagre consolation prize of fourth place.

“The situation was not ideal - I would have preferred to have gone with maybe six or seven or eight - but it’s also the last week of the Tour and we’re coming off some really hard weeks and we’ve seen it before that even a small group can manage to cheat the sprinters’ teams, so I didn’t rule it out,” Asgreen said.

“It was a team time trial, I would say. I really couldn’t have done it with Pascal, Victor and Jonas. They all did amazing out there, and to be honest we all deserved to win with the work we put in but I’m really happy to come away with it.”

After two pivotal and historic stages in terms of the Tour de France as a whole, it was a quiet day from a general classification as the race exited the Alps and started a two-day transition to the Vosges. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) finished safely in the peloton to retain his lead of 7:35 over Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

Race recap

The initial breakaway went clear from kilometre-zero, with Asgreen attacking immediately with Campenaerts and Abrahamsen. There was no great interest from others, given the flat parcours and the appetite among not only Alpecin-Deceuninck but also the sprint teams that hadn’t yet got anything out of the race, and you suspect there’ll have been a fair bit of regret at the end.

Not that anyone would have regretted it until the very end; all day the four escapees were kept on the shortest of leashes and a bunch sprint seemed an inevitability. The gap reached a maximum of 1:40 as the peloton blocked the road in the opening kilometres but the sprinters’ teams quickly came to the fore to peg them at little over a minute.

After an uneventful - but still rather fast - opening, the first of two minor category-4 climbs came in the form of the Côte de Chambéry-le-Haut (1.6km long at 4.3%) after 62km, where Abrahamsen led the break over the top, the mountains points an irrelevance.

40km down the road came the second climb, the Côte de Boissieu (2.4km at 4.7%) and that’s where things started to liven up. Given the short gap between break and bunch, a number of riders looked to jump from the pack and bridge across. One of these was Eenkhoorn, and met resistance in the form of Philipsen. In a remarkable sequence, the green jersey sprang ahead of the Dutchman, moving into his path and blocking the way. He was unable to block the entire road, however, and Eenkhoorn did eventually manage to squeeze through.

Campenaerts dropped back to help him across, and then there were four out front. Campenaerts’ eagerness told as he almost dropped the rest by accelerating after dragging Eenkhoorn over, before the quartet settled into faultless cooperation.

The gap held at a minute for a while longer, but both break and bunch were riding within themselves, the escapees just waiting to open the taps in the final hour, knowing the bunch would be happy to let them dangle rather than risk the fresh wave of attacks that accompany an early capture.

The intermediate sprint with 52km to go represented a brief hiatus to the collaboration, with Abrahamsen getting there ahead of Eenkhoorn, but that represented the moment to open the taps. With 34km to go, and with Alpecin-Deceuninck and dsm-firmenich having done the lion’s share of the work all day, the likes of Lidl-Trek and Bora-Hansgrohe added men to the chase and a bunch sprint seemed even more nailed on.

However, they left it too late, with tired legs and a reluctance to overcommit with numbers giving the breakaway hope, however faint. With 20km to go, the gap was 45 seconds, but only 15 seconds disappeared in the following five minutes. The odds were with the peloton, but it was a contest now.

With 10km to go, the gap stood at 23 seconds, but, despite some violent turns in the chase, it wasn’t sustained enough to catch what was a powerful and committed quartet out front. It was 12 seconds with 5km to go, at which point it still seemed advantage peloton. However, despite coming back to within seven seconds 2km from home, they failed to finish the job.

The breakaway continued to go all-in until 500 metres from the line, at which point they looked around, realised they had just enough space to play with, momentarily paused, then sprinted it out. Asgreen took the spoils, but it will be seen by many as a collective victory, at least in turning a flat stage into one of the most thrilling of the Tour.

Race Results

1

dk flag

ASGREEN Kasper

Soudal Quick-Step

4H 06' 48"

2

nl flag

EENKHOORN Pascal

Lotto Dstny

"

3

no flag

ABRAHAMSEN Jonas

Uno-X Pro Cycling Team

"

4

be flag

PHILIPSEN Jasper

Alpecin-Deceuninck

"

5

dk flag

PEDERSEN Mads

Lidl-Trek

"

6

nl flag

BOL Cees

Astana Qazaqstan Team

"

7

be flag

MEEUS Jordi

BORA-hansgrohe

"

8

it flag

TRENTIN Matteo

UAE Team Emirates

"

9

fr flag

LAPORTE Christophe

Jumbo-Visma

"

10

it flag

MOZZATO Luca

Team Arkéa-Samsic

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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