The Alps are proving to be a bittersweet battleground for Trek Factory Racing as Bob Jungels continues to show strong form, again joining the day’s breakaway to finish with his best result in fourth, while Bauke Mollema struggles in a tight fight to maintain his top 10 in the general classification.
Both Jungels and Julian Arredondo were part of a large 29-man breakaway in the 186.5-kilometer stage 18 that also included a few serious threats to Mollema’s GC and forced the team to chase hard over the early climbs and in the valley ahead of the hors catégorie Col du Glandon.
For the second straight day the team pulled furiously behind to minimize the gap to the breakaway in order to protect Mollema’s GC, meanwhile Jungels bided his time in the lead group.
Jungels: “We were in a pretty good position in the break with both Julian [Arredondo] and myself, and we didn’t have to do much work with the dangerous guys there like Bardet. But it was really hard even before the Glandon, the group was really fighting and it was up and down all the time and I was not feeling super good. But I could see that the others were also suffering and that gave me some morale.”
Mollema: “We were pulling with Markel [Irizar], Stijn [Devolder] and Gregy [Rast]. We had two guys in the front and we wanted to go for the stage win too, but with dangerous guys for the GC there we didn’t want to give them too much space like yesterday with Mathias Frank so we pulled together with Giant (Alpecin) to keep them in a certain distance. And that was a good tactic for today, and in the end Bob still had a chance to fight for the stage win.”
Gregory Rast was a big force in stage 18 to keep the breakaway in check.
When the gap was cut to a manageable three minutes, Jungels had the green light to ride; the large breakaway shattered on the early part of the 21-kilometer Col du Glandon and even Jungels struggled at first before finding his legs to assume the pace-setting of the breakaway, now reduced to 11.
In the final few kilometers before the top Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked drawing out Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and a few others, but a crash by Jakob Fugslang (Astana) eliminated him from the mix, Rolland then was dropped, leaving Bardet and Winner Anacona (Movistar) cresting the Glandon summit together.
Jungels pedaled over third, a few seconds later.
“When we started Glandon I dropped a few times, but I knew it was long and so I went in my rhythm, and in the small downhill in the climb my legs completely changed!,” Jungels explained. “After that I pulled the group, just in my rhythm, and even when they attack at the top I could follow a little bit. When Bardet went it was a really strong attack. I just continued at my pace and I could see the others were suffering behind; only Anacona and Fugslang could follow him, until he crashed.”
It’s hard to describe how I am feeling right now because I am totally trashed!
Bardet increased his lead on the gnarly descent, shedding Anacona and never looked back as he soloed in for the stage win. Behind, a small group caught Jungels and Anacona, but they were unable to close the 40 seconds to Bardet; on the final 3-kilometer Lacets de Montvernier Rolland distanced the others to solo the final 10-kilometer run-in and snag second place.
Jungels arrived with Anacona and Fuglsang nearly half a minute later in the fight for third place to finish fourth, surpassing his 5th place of stage 16, to give him his top result in his first ever Tour de France.
“For me it’s just great to be there with the best on these climbs,” gushed Jungels.” It’s hard to describe how I am feeling right now because I am totally trashed! I mean, I am proud of course – this is my best result, my third top ten now, and I can see that I am close and it gives me a lot of confidence to be up there in the long climbs. All my hard work in the last month has paid off.
“I know that I am better the longer the race goes, it’s been a hard third week and my mission is fulfilled. I am super happy, I really gave 110% today.”
While Jungels played in the day’s breakaway, Mollema was yo-yoing with the yellow jersey group in a fight to keep his 9th GC; he needed to finish four minutes and change behind Bardet and it took a monstrous effort from Mollema to arrive 3 minutes and 21 seconds and save his overall position.
“Oof! I am completely empty,” said Mollema. “For me it was the hardest stage of the Tour. From the Glandon to the finish I was suffering all the time. I was behind in the descent, I did all the descent alone, and I had to suffer so much to come back. In the end I made it, and from then to the finish I was totally empty. I tried to give the maximum.”
The first dangerous moment happened midway up the Glandon when an attack by 10th placed Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) caught Mollema by surprise.
Mollema described the moment: “I was just going back to the car to get some bottles when Barguil and Frank attacked. That was a pity because at the moment I was not feeling too bad. I was really in the back when I saw them going, but luckily it all came back together in the descent.”
With Barguil and IAM Cycling’s Matthias Frank riding away, later joined by an attacking Alberto Contador, the pace increased drastically in the yellow jersey group. Near the top of the Col du Glandon, Mollema and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lost contact, and on the long descent Mollema couldn’t hold Valverde’s wheel and forced into a difficult solo chase to rejoin the GC favorites group.
“I couldn’t follow Valverde,” Mollema explained. “On the first part of the descent I lost his wheel, and it was so hard after that to come back and do the whole descent alone. Luckily I came back in the end.”
On the Lacets de Montvernier climb Mollema again lost the yellow jersey group and another chase ensued, this time with a few others for company.
Mollema: “I knew the Lacets from the Dauphine, and it’s a really hard climb because of the corners and you have to accelerate all the time. About halfway up I was dropped but I was with Barguil and Sanchez and we tried to come back in the descent. Only Barguil made it back, but at the finish we were only a little behind.”
In the end, all was saved, but it was a brutal second day in the Alps and a tough test for Mollema.