Zdenêk Štybar was the top finisher on stage 13 at the Tour de France for Etixx-Quickstep on what was a scorching day for the peloton. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) had gained an early lead in the sprint for the win with Štybar coming home in the second group to the uphill finish, 17 seconds down on the winner. His teammate Rigoberto Uran struggled even more in the heat, losing over two minutes on the day and seeing his overall deficit reach almost an hour.
“The best man of the day was Van Avermaet. Congratulations to him,” Rolf Aldag said, sport and development manager for Etixx-Quickstep. “He went from far away, putting Sagan under pressure. Zdenek Stybar was there in the final, and Mark Cavendish tried to be there in the final.
“We're always happy if we win, less happy if we don't win. But there is no reason to be disappointed. The conditions have been tough, we brought everybody home safe, they tried their best in the end, and we just came up short. That's what happens in cycling. You may not win every time there is an opportunity, but you still need to try your chance. We'll keep trying in the next days."
The stage proved to be much tougher than anticipated, as the riders endured temperatures reaching close to 36 degrees Celsius. Once the breakaway was established early on, focus turned to survival.
“It was a super hard day because of the weather conditions,” Aldag added. “External conditions, such as the heat, made it very tough.”
The heat has been one of the continuing factors throughout the first half of the race. Both Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) have complained of having trouble breathing in the humidity, feeling sluggish on climbs. Thursday saw a minor respite from the high temperatures with the mountain top finish in the rain, only for it to return vigorously today. Ice packs were as numerous as water bottles in the peloton, as the riders struggled to remain cool.
“You feel like everything narrows down, everything closes in on you,” Aldag explained. “Whatever you drink, it will never be enough. Whatever you put on your head, it will never cool you down enough. You get a little bit lost in that and get sidetracked in terms of winning the bike race, which is the main objective.
“You've seen really strong riders suffering and getting off the back relatively early with how hard the race has been. I think our guys did really well considering this, even if they didn't get the win.”
Etixx-Quickstep has enjoyed a successful race thus far, other than losing Tony Martin. The team has notched up three stage wins, with two days in yellow, with Michal Kwiatkowski winning the most aggressive rider on stage 2 and 12.