With Mark Cavendish cleaning up in the sprints for Dimension Data, Serge Pauwels and Steve Cummings have alternated as the Tour de France mountain attackers for the South African team. While Cummings enjoyed a second career stage win in Lac de Payolle, Pauwels had to settle for second on Mont Ventoux with compatriot Thomas De Gendt taking the honours after a day in the breakaway.
After the Ardeche time trial and another sprint stage that finished with Cavendish raising his arms in triumph, Pauwels was back on the attack on stage 15 from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz.
"I tried to make it into the breakaway today because I thought it was one stage that suited me really well. I was keen for the stage but I knew it was going to be a very hard day," the 33-year-old said of his aim for the stage.
At last year's Tour, Pauwels finished in 13th place overall, his best result yet in a three-week race, with fourth place in Cauterets his top result of the race. On that day it was Rafal Majka claiming the stage win and the Polish road race champion almost took the honours again in Culoz after spending the day in the breakaway with Pauwels.
"I pretty much went all in on that first category 1 climb to make sure I was the break of 30 riders. I went over the top of that climb in 3rd so I made the break but then it's basically like a new race starts all over again," he said of the hard and fast start to the day.
On the HC ranked Grand Colombier climb, the day's breakaway splintered as Majka and Katusha's Ilnur Zakarin powered away but the Russian suffered on the descent with Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) bridging across.
While Majka and Pantano would contest the stage win, Pauwels was chasing hard behind and finished 25 seconds down on the duo to finish sixth. A result that was deserving explained an honest Pauwels.
"It was a super strong breakaway if you look at the riders who were in there like Nibali, Zakarin, Dumoulin and Pozzovivo. They were all dropped in the final and you know those guys don't drop for nothing, it was such a tough day," he added. "These are the kind of races I like and 6th was probably the place I deserve. I rode for what I could so I am happy with this result because it was such a tough day."