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Navardauskas Rides Through the Rain to Tour History

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Ramunas Navardauskas said the fear of being caught like Garmin teammate Jack Bauer in the final meters was what drove him to his historic first Lithuanian victory at the Tour de France on Friday. The 26-year-old broke away from the peloton on a short 1.3km climb 13km from the finish of the 208.5km 19th stage from Maubourguet to Bergerac.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

In driving rain, the Lithuanian held on to win by seven seconds ahead of a bunch sprint, with John Degenkolb second and Alexander Kristoff third. Afterwards he said it was painful memories of New Zealander Bauer’s own near miss in Nimes last Sunday that motivated him.

“In all the last kilometers when I had a gap of 25 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, I didn’t know what was happening back there,” he said.

“I was thinking that maybe the sprinters’ teams would chase me down. When five guys are working shoulder to shoulder (at the front of the peloton) it’s almost amazing to keep 20 seconds in front. I’ve no idea what happened, I just went as fast as I can, I kept my speed up and hoped that what happened to Jack wouldn’t happen to me.”

“It was really sad to see that after he had been going for 200km to be caught in the last 10 meters. Until the last 10 meters I was afraid to turn back. I went as fast as I can so at the end I couldn’t say that I could have done better. I went with all my power and at the end I had nothing left in my legs.”

Last Sunday Bauer and Swiss champion Martin Elmiger spent the entire 222km stage in the lead only to be caught by the peloton meters from the line. Bauer was particularly distraught as he had been the one so close to winning. After crossing the line he broke down in tears.

Elmiger was again in the breakaway on Friday alongside Frenchmen Cyril Gautier and Arnaud Gerard, as well as Navardauskas’s Dutch teammate Tom-Jelte Slagter and Estonian Rein Taaramae. Slagter broke clear of his escape companions with 32km to ride but he was caught by his teammate after Navardauskas powered away from the peloton on the final short climb. The Lithuanian said that had always been his team’s plan.

“It was a plan from the beginning and the whole team worked for this and you could see before the climb the whole team was organized at the front of the peloton,” he said.

“Jack Bauer covered some moves and Sebastian Langeveld, all the team was around me and supported me as much as they could. I attacked up the climb, I caught Tom who gave me this pull and then I gave all my power and time trialled to the end.”

There were still 13km to cover but the peloton failed to organize a chase and those who were massing at the front where held up by a crash just inside the final 3km. One of those to fall was sprinter’s green jersey holder Peter Sagan, who was finally hoping for a stage victory following four second placed finishes at this Tour. But when he went down, leaving his Cannondale team without a purpose, the
chase stalled and Navardauskas was able to easily hold on for victory.

Another who went down in the spill was Frenchman Romain Bardet, placed fifth overall. As the crash happened in the final 3km, though, he lost no time. Neither did race leader Vincenzo Nibali, who was held up by the spill, as he maintained his 7min 10sec lead over second placed Frenchman Thibaut Pinot ahead of Saturday’s 54km individual time-trial.

“Once we’d gone past the 5km to go sign I let myself slide down the pack a bit because once you get inside the final 4km or 3km I wanted to leave space for the sprinters,” said Nibali. “It’s important for me not to take risks so I was a bit behind the crash and was able to avoid it.”

Results: 19th stage of Tour de France – 208.5km Maubourguet to Bergerac.

1. Ramunas Navardauskas (LTU/GRM) 4hr 43min 41sec(average: 44,1 km/h)
2. John Degenkolb (GER/GIA) at 0:07
3. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) 0:07
4. Mark Renshaw (AUS/OPQ) 0:07
5. Daniele Bennati (ITA/TIN) 0:07
6. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/OPQ) 0:07
7. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA/ALM) 0:09
8. Julien Simon (FRA/COF) 0:09
9. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL/BKN) 0:09
10. Jürgen Roelandts (BEL/LTB) 0:09

1. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 85hr 29min 26sec
2. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) at 7:10
3. Jean Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 7:23
4. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 7:25
5. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 9:27
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 11:34
7. Bauke Mollema (NED/BKN) 13:56
8. Laurens ten Dam (NED/BKN) 14:15
9. Leopold König (CZE/APP) 14:37
10. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/TRE) 16:25