Ilnur Zakarin looked to be one the strongest riders in the stage 15 Tour de France breakaway to Culoz, which saw the peloton climb the Grand Colombier and Lacets du Grand Colombier before finishing in Culoz, only for disaster to strike as the Katusha rider lost a contact lens.
The 26-year-old had made his way into the large 30-rider breakaway which had formed on the Col du Berthiand and was one of the most active in shedding the numbers before the final two climbs. While Zakarin was able to match Rafal Majka on the Grand Colombier ascent, once he lost his contact lens his hopes of a maiden Tour stage win went with it.
"We had a plan to go in the break today together with Alberto Losada. He had to support me there," Zakarin said of Katusha's tactics. "It was not easy to go in the break because almost from the start there was a climb, but finally we succeed. Alberto was always with me, he supported me very well. On Grand Colombier I attacked and went away with Majka. I felt good today and on the climb all went well.
"On the descent I lost my contact lens. Two times I tried to put it back in, but it was a big stress and hurry in the race and finally I couldn't do it. So I had to continue with only one lens. It was hard because one eye sees good and another one bad, but there was nothing I could do. I think I will have two more chances and I hope to do better than today."
While hampered by the lack of vision, Zakarin managed to descend safely and finish the stage in ninth place, 1:30 minute down on stage winner Jarlinson Pantano, his best result yet in the race.
For team director Dmitry Konyshev, it was a mixed day as he explained his Russian rider showed his strength on the climbs only to be undone by the loss of his contact lens, and the troublesome procedure to get a new one from the team car.
"Today we saw that Ilnur is in really good shape. He has good legs and he proved it today. On the climb he was the strongest. He tried to cooperate with Majka to increase the gap and everything went very good. But on descent he lost one contact lens, so he could only see with one eye," Konyshev said. "We had to stop to wait for the second car, then take the spare lens and to come back to Ilnur. It costs us time. Later Ilnur tried to put in the lens while riding the bike, but he lost it, so he had to stop to put in another one. But all this was in a big hurry, he put one lens and lost another one again. So finally he had to finish the race with only one lens. That's quite difficult."
The four-time Tour stage winner Konyshev added that all-in-all, it was a good day Zakarin and bodes well for the coming days in the high mountains.
"Anyway I was happy to see Ilnur in full force. We still have two possibilities and we will try in one of these stages," he added,
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