Magnus Cort Nielsen has won Stage 15 of the Tour de France in Carcassonne this afternoon to give Astana its second consecutive stage win following Omar Fraile’s win in Mende yesterday.
It took time for a break to finally get clear on today’s 181.5-kilometre, and when it did after getting on for an hour’s racing, it was a big one, comprising almost 30 riders.
Among them was world champion and points classification leader Peter Sagan, but he lost contact with the head of the group early on in the day’s main climb up the slopes of the Montagne Noire.
That gave his Bora-Hangrohe team mate Rafal Majka free rein the go on the attack, and the Pole led the race by almost half a minute as it went over the exposed summit of the Pic de Noire, crested 41 kilometres from the finish.
Behind him, Bauke Mollema of Trek Segafredo and Astana’s Magnus Cort Nielsen worked together in pursuit of him, and with five other riders joining them, Majka was inexorably brought back, the catch made with 15 kilometres remaining.
Mollema and Cort Nielsen each had a team mate with them now, in the respective shapes of Toms Skujiņš and Michael Valgren, joined by the Bahrain-Merida pair of Domenico Pozzovivo and Ion Izagirre and Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie.
With crosswinds battering the front group and a tactical battle playing out as the teams with two riders each tried to press home their numerical advantage, Mollema, Izagirre and Cort Nielsen got clear in the final kilometres to dispute the stage win.
In the final kilometre neither Mollema nor Izagirre wanted to get ahead of Cort Nielsen, by far the strongest sprinter of the three, and when he attacked with 250 metres left neither could respond.
Nearly a quarter of an hour further down the mountain, Dan Martin attacked from the front of the main group, looking to get back some of the time he lost yesterday after a late puncture.
At one point, the UAE Team Emirates was a minute ahead of the group containing race leader Geraint Thomas, but with Team Sky riding strongly he was caught on the descent.
After the end of the stage it emerged that Team Sky's Gianni Moscon had been ejected from the race after hitting another rider.
Following tomorrow’s second and final rest day, racing resumes on Tuesday with a 218-kilometre stage from Carcassonne to Bagneres de Luchon, the first of three high mountain stages in the Pyrenees and the day ended with no changes at the top of the overall standings.
Stage winner Magnus Cort Nielsen of Astana
I"t’s amazing! It was one of my biggest dreams when I’ve started riding a bike. This is my first Tour de France and I'm so happy to win a stage here.
"I want to thank my team for giving me a chance to ride this Tour. A special thank to Michael Valgren as well, who did an absolutely incredible job today, providing me with a huge support!
"Everything was just perfect today and our sports director Lars Michaelsen had great confidence in me for winning this stage. Many days ago we already discussed this stage and he told me it could suit me really well.
"So, today I went in a breakaway together with Michael Valgren and, finally, everything worked out perfectly. So, I'm very happy!"
Race leader Geraint Thomas of Team Sky
"There was quite a bit of wind and it was quite stressful but the guys controlled it really well. It was the right break for us so we were happy with that.
"Then obviously Dan (Martin) went on the last climb of the day. There was 40km to go from the top with 20km of flat and a bit of wind, so it was a big ask. (Romain) Bardet tried on the descent but we were always in control. We just made sure we were there in the front.
"There was wind in the last 15km but it wasn't enough to do anything, but there was a bit of stress anyway. We were always in the right place and it's a good day to get done.
"I'm just taking each day as it comes. I'm looking forward to the rest day and then we've got a big block in the Pyrenees."
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.