Katusha's Alexander Kristoff won a sprint finish in Nimes to take Stage 15 of the 2014 Tour de France, pipping a two-man breakaway who had led the whole day with just metres to go.
Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger held the top places for almost the entirety of the rain-affected 222-kilometre stage and, as they reached the final minutes, it looked as though they might successfully come through for the win.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) wins stage 15 of the Tour de France as Bauer & Elmiger caught metres from the line #TdF2014— Cycling Weekly (@cyclingweekly) July 20, 2014
Bauer hit the front as the finish line loomed into sight but was left broken as he was beaten into 10th just metres from the line with Heinrich Haussler in second and Peter Sagan third. Vincenzo Nibali maintained his lead in the general classification.
|2||Heinrich Haussler||Australia||IAM Cycling||+0|
|10||Jack Bauer||New Zealand||Garmin||+0|
Soon after the stage got under way from Tallard, the two-man breakaway began in the form of IAM Cycling's Elmiger and Garmin-Sharp's Bauer.
With a sprint finish expected in Nimes, the peloton were happy to let the pair go as the main sprinters' teams ran the show.
After a couple of difficult days in the mountains, the general classification riders seemed content to take it easy for the majority of the stage, although Nibali did make himself known on occasions when a split threatened.
|5||Tejay van Garderen||United States||BMC Racing||+5:49|
|8||Leopold Konig||Czech Republic||NetApp||+9:32|
|9||Laurens ten Dam||Netherlands||Belkin||+10:01|
Alejandro Valverde, Nibali's closest challenger for the yellow jersey, trailing by more than four-and-a-half minutes, seemed to suggest before the stage that the race for top spot was all but over, per BBC Sport's Peter Scrivener:
"Vincenzo Nibali is the strongest but there's nothing in it between the rest of us."
Kiwi Bauer and Swiss Elmiger's lead in the breakaway was as large as eight minutes early on in the stage, but the poor weather and crosswinds—from which the peloton offers great protection—made it somewhat inevitable they would eventually be caught.
However, though their lead continued to be cut down, it only dipped below one minute with 12 kilometres to go and it was touch and go as to whether they would be caught.
As the stage neared the close, the riders were finally given some respite from the poor weather. Lotto-Belisol led the charge toward the leaders as the peloton stretched out.
But the main group could not make a significant-enough dent into the lead of Bauer and Elmiger, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Tony Martin attempted to drag them closer.
The sprinters' teams seemingly could not make up the time, but the gap was cut down drastically with just 500 metres to go. As Bauer sprinted for the win after 222 km in the lead, he was pipped by a sprint group led by Katusha's Kristoff with just 10 metres to go.
Here come the sprinters! Katusha wins with Kristoff. WOW Bauer was 10 metres from the line when he was caught— ByTheMin Cycling (@ByTheMinCycle) July 20, 2014
It was a crushing finish after a great effort from Bauer, but it was superb timing from the Norwegian Kristoff as he claimed victory on the line.
With a rest day to come on Monday, the riders will take an opportunity to prepare before the race heads into the Pyrenees for Stage 16.
Nibali's lead in the yellow jersey is still a comfortable one and he will seemingly win the 2014 Tour as long as he stays on his bike during the final week.