The Tour de France tests the gamut of riders' skills, from positioning to cornering, avoiding crashes and responding to attacks, but it was descending skills – or a lack thereof – that cost Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) a chance to fight for a stage win on the first day in the Pyrenees on Saturday.
Eventual stage 8 winner Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) was with Zakarin at the front on the race on the Hors Categorie Port de Balès with 35km to go and admitted that he felt the Russian was the stronger rider.
But when the road turned downhill, Zakarin rode tentatively on the hoods, and his stiff, nervous descending admittedly cost him speed and time. Peters opened a gap and Zakarin never saw him again until the finish line.
"[Peters] really was good and for me today the downhill was a very big problem. I know it's my problem. [Peters] was really strong and had good motivation for today," Zakarin said.
On the Port de Balès, Peters and Zakarin had 46 seconds over chasers Toms Skujinš (Trek-Segafredo), Carlos Verona (Movistar) and Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling). By the time Peters reached the base of the Col de Peyresourde, Zakarin was already 45 seconds behind him and the chasers closing in on the Russian.
Athough Powless lost contact with Skujinš and Verona after misjudging a bend, the pair caught and passed Zakarin after the Col de Peyresourde. On the long 11km descent to the finish, the Russian gave up even more time, rolling in fourth at 1:09 behind the stage winner.
Peters admitted he wasn't the strongest climber in the breakaway but rode a smart race.
"I knew Zakarin was stronger than me up the climbs but I never gave up," the Frenchman said. "I had seen in the downhill of Port de Balès that he descended like a goat so I was confident to beat him in the finale of the stage.
"I had no ear piece, so the only info I had were by looking back. Only 2 kilometres to go I thought that I was going to win."
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