Portugal’s Rui Costa wins Tour de France stage 19
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Portuguese cyclist Rui Costa won the hilly 19th stage of the Tour de France, his second win this year, thanks to a solo breakaway on the final climb. The UK’s Chris Froome maintained his overall lead over his closest rival, Spain’s Alberto Contador.
Rui Costa won the mountainous 19th stage of the Tour de France with a solo breakaway on the final climb, while Chris Froome stayed in yellow as expected attacks never materialized on Friday.
Costa secured his second stage win of the race after catching Frenchman Pierre Roland about a quarter of the way up the fourth and final major ascent of Col de la Croix Fry.
“A lot of Portuguese fans have supported me through this Tour and I want to thank them,” Costa said through a translator.
German veteran Andreas Kloeden was second, 46 seconds behind, and Belgian Jan Bakelants was 1:44 back in third.
Froome and his main Tour rival Alberto Contador were still some distance behind Portugal’s Costa when he clinched his third career Tour stage win.
The 204.5-kilometers (127-mile) trek featured two HC climbs and two Category 1 ascents between Bourg-d’Oisans and Le Grand-Bornand in the snow-capped peaks of the Alps.
Contador was tipped to attack Froome on the long downhill finish, but perhaps because of the rainy conditions, the attack never came.
Froome and Contador rolled over the line together, several minutes behind Costa, and Froome maintained his lead of 5:11 over the Spaniard. He is two days away from becoming the second British rider to win the race after Bradley Wiggins last year.
Froome was not attacked up the first of the two big HC climbs to Col du Glandon. They are known as HC, Hors Categorie, because they are considered so tough they are beyond classification.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal and Spaniard Jon Izaguirre opened up a lead of more than seven minutes over the yellow jersey group once they went over the top of Glandon.
A large group of some 30 riders - including the winner of Thursday’s stage up to L’Alpe d’Huez, Christophe Riblon - wedged in between the front-runners and Froome’s group.
There were much less people on the mountains than for Thursday’s two ascents of L’Alpe d’Huez - where hundreds of thousands of people jammed into every space possible on cycling’s most famed mountain pass.
On the way down from Glandon, riders sped toward the second HC of Col de Madeleine, another fabled Tour climb, winding upward for a punishing 19.2 kilometers (12 miles).
As the front two reached Madeleine, the peloton was 10 minutes behind. Hesjedal forged ahead before being caught and overtaken by Frenchman Pierre Rolland.
The stage then undulated through the valleys and up a modest Category 2 climb before rising shaprly again with two Category 1 climbs of Col de l’Epine and Col de la Croix Fry, then ending with a sharp descent to the ski resort of Le Grand Bornand in south-eastern France.
When Rolland completed the Cat. 2 climb of Col de Tamie, he was nearly two minutes clear of a group of about 20 riders - including stage winner Costa and Bakelants. They chased Rolland hard but he maintained his lead up l’Epine - zooming up the 7.3 kilometers (4.5 miles) in just under 19 minutes.
A way behind, the main pack was still about 10 minutes back when Rolland approached the last climb. Three of Froome’s Sky teammates found the going too hard, however. Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas drifted off.
Costa, who won Tuesday’s medium-mountain stage, charged after Rolland up Fry, a climb of about 11 kilometers (7 miles).
As the main pack started to grind their way up, Froome sat on Contador’s wheel. The Spaniard had Saxo-Tinkoff teammates Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger to help him. Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Frenchman John Gadret jumped out of the pack and charged ahead. Neither were a threat to Froome or Contador so they let them go.
With the rain becoming heavier, fans ducked under their umbrellas as Costa reached the top and prepared for a long and slippery descent of some 13 kilometers (8 miles).
He had a scare when he misjudged a turn but got down safely. Costa’s other stage win was up to Super-Besse ski station in 2011.
Contador twice attacked Froome on speedy descents in recent days, but this time the 2007 and ‘09 champion held fire.
He has only Saturday’s 20th stage - another one of tough climbing in the Alps - to claw back his large deficit to Froome, who will likely look to stay safe so that he can match Wiggins’ feat on Sunday.