The dogged loyalty of Michael Kwiatkowski in service of the INEOS Grenadiers (nee Team Sky) at four Tours de France was finally rewarded with a maiden stage victory, embracing team mate Richard Carapaz over the line after safely putting the Ecuardorian into polka dots. Richie Porte gave the nation palpitations with a gutsy fight back after puncturing on a gravel section.
By
SBS Cycling Central

18 Sep 2020 - 2:52 AM  UPDATED 18 Sep 2020 - 8:19 PM

Measured against the normal INEOS/Team Sky benchmark of ultra perfection, this year's Tour de France is one the team would rather forget.

Their defending champion suffering on climbs, losing minutes and ultimately abandoning the Tour was something the team has not experienced at least since 2014 when Froome crashed out. 

But crossing the line together arm-in-arm with Carapaz is a moment in Kwiatkowski's already extraordinary career he said was incredible.  

"I will never forget that," the former road world champion said nearly breaking. "I get some nice moments in cycling but that was something, a new experience." 

"I've got goosebumps for the last, I don't know how many kilometres because I know that the gap is so big that we are going to make it."

In the breakaway all day, a stage win was always the goal for INEOS but the second objective of putting Carapaz into the polka dot jersey appeared under threat as Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) aggressively helped himself to the KOM points on the first three climbs and leapfrogged Carapaz in those standings. 

But Hirschi took a risk trying to match the pressure applied by Carapaz rocketing down the descent of the Col des Saisies, and the Swiss rider came down on a corner. While he bravely forged on, the work of Kwiatkowski and the remnants of the breakaway ensured he didn't make it back. 

"Collectively we tried in the last three days everything we could to be in the breakaway to win the stage and finally today most of us we find the the best legs," Kwiatkowski said. 

"I think we're going to celebrate big time tonight because we all deserve it after so many stages we believe we put on some show today and for sure we are going to celebrate that."

"I can't describe how grateful I am to the whole team, to Richard. It was an incredible day for us."

In an intense final 30 kilometres, Richie Porte punctured on the gravel section on the approach to the Col des Glieres. He lost around 30 seconds waiting for a new bike from his team car and made the desperate chase back on. 

With Primož Roglič, Tadej Pogačar, Miguel Ángel López, Mikel Landa and Enric Mas all up the road, the Jumbo-Visma riders in the group Porte found himself didn't help in his fight back on. The Tasmanian drove the pace on his own until Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert were called back by the team in case Roglič needed extra firepower on the final uncategorised climb. 

This helped save Porte's Tour de France as he latched back on to his main rivals for the podium Lopez and Landa before the descent into La Roche-Sur-Foron.  

Landa himself produced a scary moment for Porte fans when he attacked on the hors categorie Montée du plateau des Glières several kilometres from the top but he was eventually caught by the main contenders on the gravel section to Col des Glières. 

Earlier on the stage, a big group of around 30 riders got away after 6kms including green jersey contenders Sam Bennett, Peter Sagan and Matteo Trentin. Bennett increased his lead over Sagan in the green jersey classification by another five points taking the maximum reward at the intermediate sprint, Trentin and Sagan crossing behind him. 

As the leaders hit the climb the gap back to the bunch was just under two minutes. Job done at the sprint, Bennett sat up and waited for the peloton enjoying his 52 point lead over Sagan.

Riders melted away from the lead including Sagan, leaving 18 riders up the front including Carapaz, Nans Peters (Ag2r La Mondiale), Hirschi, Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) and Simon Geschke (CCC Team). 

Carapaz had the extra firepower of team mates Michael Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Castroviejo, Hirschi had Nicolas Roche and their group included Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren), Carlos Verona (Movistar) and Sebastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ). 

Quentin Pacher, Julian Alaphilippe, Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step) Romain Sicard (Total) soon slipped off the front and bridged to Lennard Kämna who had given up his earlier attempt to reach the leaders. A few kilometres later, Bahrain-McLaren's Damiano Caruso followed, first bridging to the pursuants and charging right past them. 

Caruso then reached a bunch of other riders who'd slipped from the initial breakaway, sped past them and joined the leaders 4.5kms from the top of the climb, Kwiatkowski's pace 5kms from the top of the climb, shelling out Castroviejo and Reichenbach out the back door. 

When Hirschi crossed the KOM first over Carapaz and moved to fourth in that competition, leapfrogging Carapaz, they gained 27 seconds on the descent over their breakaway companions, the peloton at just under three minutes. 

On the next climb, the Côte de la Route des Villes, Kwiatkowski, Bilbao and Edet joined Carapaz and Hirschi at the head of the race and the lead over the peloton increased to three and half minutes. Hirschi had the jump at the next KOM remaining in fourth position in that competition. 

After losing Hirschi on the descent of the Saisies, Kwiatkowski and Carapaz saw Bilbao and Edet fall away. 

The 2020 Tour de France continues with the 166km Stage 19 from Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole that could decide the green jersey. Watch on SBS HD and SBS On Demand from 9:30pm AEST and the SBS ŠKODA Tour Tracker from 9:20pm AEST.