NIMES, France (AP) — A long, flat transition stage across a rainy Provence saw Tour de France riders leave the Alps behind and finish with the prospect of a rest day ahead of them on Monday.
There was no shakeup in the overall classification after the 222-kilometer (138-mile) Stage 15, which was won by Norway’s Alexander Kristoff.
Here are five things to know about the Tour on Sunday:
BAUER’S DISTRESS: The heartbreak felt by New Zealand rider Jack Bauer was painful to see. Shortly after being beaten to the line in the final meters by a racing pack after a 222-kilometer breakaway, Bauer, 29, crumpled to the ground against a barrier and clutched his face, while teammates gathered around to try to console him.
Bauer, the Garmin-Sharp rider who abandoned on Stage 19 in his first Tour appearance last year, took several minutes to compose himself and change into a fresh jersey before coming to speak to reporters gathered at his bus.
Bauer described his emotional state as “titter disappointment.”
“It was a childhood dream to win a stage at the Tour. And for a person like myself, a ‘domestique,’ I’m normally working in the service of others. This was my first chance to be up the road,” Bauer said.
“I really gave it absolutely everything and, as you can see from my meltdown at the finish, I was pretty disappointed to come away empty-handed.
Bauer and his breakaway companion, Swiss champion Martin Elmiger, were ahead until the final 50 meters of Sunday’s long, flat stage between Tallard and Nimes.
With five kilometers (three miles) to go, and the peloton slowed by dangeously slick roads soaked by a heavy rain that only stopped shortly before the riders entered Nimes, Bauer said he was confident the stage was in the bag.
The Garmin-Sharp team hopes to salvage its Tour with a stage win, after its podium aspirations evaporated with team leader Andrew Talansky abandoning before Stage 12.
“I’m not going to say our Tour hasn’t been a success and it’s certainly not over yet, but a stage win would have gone a long way towards rectifying what’s been a difficult last five days with the loss of Andrew and the reshuffle of our goals and ambitions,” Bauer said.
The rider put a brave face on the disappointment and promised Garmin-Sharp would continue to seek a result at this year’s Tour.
“After such a big effort over the day, all of a sudden in the last ‘K’ I knew I had the legs and thought ‘I’ve got the stage’. So when I realized that I didn’t, my world came crashing down for a minute. But that’s bike racing, that’s sport, you get up and you try again. We’ll try again after the rest day,” Bauer said.
GREIPEL STYMIED: German sprinter Andre Greipel just missed out Sunday on his second stage win at this year’s Tour, finishing fourth in the same time as winner Alexander Kristoff of Norway.
The German champion, who took Stage 6 in Reims on July 11 for his sixth career Tour stage win, said stormy conditions hurt his chances to repeat.
“I just didn’t have the punch anymore, I had to go early and I was in the wind,” Greipel said at his team bus after the stage. The heavy rain, which only broke shortly before the pack arrived in Nimes, made for an exciting but dangerous finish.
“Of course it was not easy, it was hard to see anything in the rain. At the end I hope everyone was safe,” Greipel said.
With three mountain stages in the Pyrenees and a long time trial ahead — none of which suits sprinters like Greipel — the Lotto-Belisol rider was asked if he was now focused on the final stage sprint finish on Paris’ Champs Elysees.
No, Greipel said, “Now the focus is on the rest day.”
NIBALI EYES TIME TRIAL: Yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali has such a firm lock on the race’s lead going into the final rest day that most observers are speculating not on whether he’ll win, but on who will finish below him on the Champs Elysees podium.
Three difficult stages next week in the Pyrenees are unlikely to change that, as the Sicilian known as “The Shark” has demonstrated he is nearly unbeatable in the high mountains.
Nibali’s one weakness could come on the long 54-kilometer (33.6-mile) time trial next Saturday. He said Sunday that he has identified this as a possible problem and has worked to improve in the race against the clock discipline.
“Of course, over these last three years I have worked on my time trialing, my position, many tests on the track,” Nibali said.
Nibali will hope that his efforts pay off and that he doesn’t repeat his poor time trials in the 2012 Tour. That year he lost around a minute on both of the two time trials to American Tejay van Garderen, who is currently in fifth place, 5:49 behind Nibali.
VAN GARDEREN CONFIDENT: U.S. rider Tejay van Garderen says he’s on his guard going into the Tour de France’s final week.
The Montana native currently sits in 5th place, five minutes and 49 seconds behind yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali of Italy. He’d dearly like to do better than that over the race’s last six stages and validate his BMC Racing team’s decision to make him the team’s overall leader at this year’s Tour.
“You’ve just got to be prepared and stay attentive,” Van Garderen said before the start of Sunday’s wet-and-wild sprint into Nimes. The former white jersey winner, whose best-ever overall Tour result was 5th place in 2012 when he took the prize for best rider under 25, managed to finish safely in the pack to keep his closest rivals for the podium within a minute on the overall classification.
“I’ve stayed pretty consistent and I think it’s not that I’m getting better, it’s that other guys start to crack a bit. Bardet, Peraud, Pinot, Valverde looks like he could be losing a little bit,” Van Garderen said. The 25-year-old American is known as a strong time trialist who can also usually stay with the leaders in the high mountains. After Monday’s rest day, he’ll have three punishing stages in the Pyrenees to get through before the penultimate time trial stage on July 26.
UNCLE GALLOPIN: Alain Gallopin, team director at Trek Factory Racing, says the team is banking on Luxembourg national champion Frank Schleck to salvage what’s been a disappointing Tour so far.
Gallopin has had to watch as three of his team abandoned, including 2010 Tour champ Andy Schleck and four-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara. Meanwhile, his nephew Tony Gallopin has made waves, winning a stage and wearing the yellow jersey for one day. Tony Gallopin rode for his uncle’s team until last season. The elder Gallopin say’s he’s got “no regrets” over losing the rising star to Belgian squad Lotto-Belisol.
“We are a new team. It was built around Fabian. It’s clear that given Tony’s requirements there was no way to keep him. He signed at half price with RadioShack to come with me, but he’s not going to do that everytime,” Gallopin said with a chuckle.
The Trek squad is now looking to Frank Schleck to give the team a result before the Tour ends July 27 in Paris.
“Frank was good yesterday (Saturday) and he’s improving. I think he’ll be even better in the Pyrenees. He’s going to save our Tour, one way or another,” Gallopin said.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.