Wout Poels claimed a superb first Tour de France win on Stage 15 in Saint-Gervais de Mont-Blanc, as Tadej Pogačar failed to land a hammer blow against Jonas Vingegaard in the battle for yellow.
Poels dropped Wout van Aert decisively on the final climb, pushing on to the line with an advantage of over two minutes for the finest result of his distinguished career.
Given van Aert’s exceptional sprinting ability, Poels knew dropping him early on the final climb was essential – and the Dutch veteran duly obliged.
The race for the yellow jersey behind followed what is becoming a familiar template in this Tour de France, with Vingegaard and Pogačar matching each other as domestiques drop one by one, before the Slovenian lights the afterburners to attack in the final kilometer.
Pogačar’s attack lacked the explosiveness of previous days, however, and Vingegaard was able to stay glued to his wheel to maintain his ten-second advantage into the Tour’s final week.
“Finally, I can fight for a stage win”
Like Pello Bilbao on Stage 10, Poels was quick to pay tribute to Bahrain-Victorious teammate Gino Mäder, who was tragically killed last month in a crash at the Tour de Suisse.
“I always dreamed to win a stage in the Tour, especially [with] what happened in the last few weeks with Gino. All the emotions came. I’ve won a Monument and a Tour stage.
“I started to believe in the last kilometer, [but] I had to keep fighting. I went full gas. It was amazing.”
When asked if he felt Mäder was watching over his victory, Poels responded: “I think so.”
“I didn’t have the perfect preparation for the tour. The team took me here, they believed in me. Here we are.
“I really enjoyed my period with [Team] Sky, being in the winning team four times. But finally, I can fight for a stage win today. It’s great.”
“One more week to take yellow”
UAE-Emirates rider Adam Yates delivered an outstanding ride in support of his leader Tadej Pogačar, making strides in the General Classification for himself in the process, but the Slovenian was unable to capitalize to distance Jumbo-Visma’s Vingegaard.
Nonetheless, Yates cast a confident figure at the line when asked about the team’s chances of dethroning Vingegaard in the Tour’s final week.
“It was another hot day. I kept pushing. I think as a team, we showed we’re quite strong. We have one more week to take yellow.
“I’ve got no idea where I am [in the GC classification] to be honest. I put it full gas – I’m suffering so much – but I’m super happy with my position, and the team look super good for next week.”
Yet another pile-up caused by spectators
The early part of the stage was marred by yet another mass pile-up caused by an inattentive spectator, this time knocking the handlebars of Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss while attempting to take a selfie.
The resulting crash brought down much of the peloton, leading to the race being neutralized for the second time in two days to allow the downed riders to recover.
Fortunately, none of the twenty riders brought down in the incident were forced to abandon, but it once again puts fan behavior in the spotlight in scenes reminiscent of the infamous “Omi & Opi” crash during the 2021 Tour.
The race that remains
Monday offers much-needed respite in the form of a rest day, before Tuesday’s potentially decisive individual time trial.
At just 22 kilometers, the stage appeared to offer less scope for decisive time gaps back when we first reviewed the Tour de France 2023 route – but with this turning into one of the tightest Tours in memory, an advantage of even a few seconds could well determine the yellow jersey in Paris.
Having so far failed to punish Vingegaard in the mountains, Pogačar will relish the opportunity to put his rival to the sword in a discipline in which he will consider himself the slight favorite.
After Tuesday, two key opportunities for GC action remain: Stage 17’s brutal run to Courchevel, and Stage 20’s altitude finish at Le Markstein.
Tour de France 2023: Stage 15 Results
1. Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious/NED): 4:40:45
2. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma/BEL): +2:08
3. Mathieu Burgadeau (Total Energies/FRA): +3:00
4. Lawson Craddock (Jayco-AlUla/USA): +3:10
5. Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious/SPA): +3:14
6. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ/FRA): +3:14
7. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis/FRA): +3:32
8. Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek/DEN): +3:43
9. Simon Guglielmi (Arkéa–Samsic/FRA): +3:59
10. Warren Barguil (Arkéa–Samsic/FRA): +4:20
Tour de France 2023 General Classification Standings After Stage 14
1. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma/DEN): 62:34:17
2. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates/SLO): + 10 seconds
3. Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers/SPA): + 5 minutes, 21 seconds
4. Adam Yates (UAE-Team Emirates/GBR): + 5 minutes, 40 seconds
5. Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe/AUS): + 6 minutes, 38 seconds
6. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma/USA): + 9 minutes, 16 seconds
7. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious/SPA): + 10 minutes, 11 seconds
8. Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla/GBR): + 10 minutes, 48 seconds
9. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ/FRA): + 14 minutes, 7 seconds
10. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis/FRA): + 14 minutes, 18 seconds