Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) gave the French something to cheer about at the Tour de France on Bastille Day's stage 15, earning the day's award for the most combative rider with a last-ditch attack from the breakaway, surviving part-way up Mont Ventoux.
The French are still without a stage win this Tour, an unfortunate drought considering that a French rider has won at least one stage in every Grande Boucle since the turn of the century. At present, the best-placed Frenchman is Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R-LaMondiale) who is ninth overall, 7:47 behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky).
Chavanel has been continually aggressive this Tour, with three top-10 performances to his name over the past fortnight of racing. The 34-year-old left his nine breakaway companions behind before the start of the 20.8km, 7.5% HC climb at the end of the stage, while Euskaltel Euskadi and Sky set about a determined chase. With 15km to go, Chavanel had built a lead of around 30 seconds before being caught by stage runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel Euskadi) with a little over 12km remaining.
"I'm happy because I was the most aggressive rider on Bastille Day," Chavanel said. "In the first two hours we were riding really at a high pace. We had a good gap, but not enough to try to go for the win. We needed to have seven or eight minutes at the foot of the Mont Ventoux to arrive. It's a pity because I think I was one of the strongest guys in the front group."
Chavanel eventually finished 15:29 off the pace in 53rd.
"But today I rode also for the public and for the spectacle," he continued. "It was unbelievable to hear all the supporters on the road cheering for me and for the riders in general. I hope to have given them a good day at the Tour. In the next days we will see what I can do. The course is not exactly for me, we go into the mountains but, you never know."
Meantime, Chavanel's teammate Michal Kwiatkowski lost his lead in the young rider classification as expected to Quintana. The Polish rider was the team's best finisher in 18th place, 3:14 behind Froome. Kwiatkowski said that the mythical climb lived up to his expectations.
"It was unbelievable," he explained. "The public on the climb the rhythm of the race. It's something I won't forget for a long time because it was really something epic. Concerning my performance, I tried to stick with the peloton as best as I could. Actually, at the beginning I was pretty okay but of course when they accelerated I wasn't able to stay with the best. "
Kwiatkowski is now 2:11 behind the lead of Quintana in the battle for the white jersey having held a meagre 34 second advantage over the Colombian leading into Sunday's stage.
"For me, it's also important to improve a little bit on the climbs," Kwiatkowski explained. "Doing these kinds of races are where you can improve. You can really understand what is your level and work on it to improve again. Now I am 10th in the GC. It will probably be hard to defend the position in the next week, but as we say within the team, 'never give up.' I will try my best and it is most important to end the Tour with a great experience, and without any regrets."
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