An untroubled Adam Yates, of Mitchelton-Scott, retained the overall lead in the 2020 Tour de France on a day in which the main favourites took a back seat and allowed a stage-long breakaway to run its course.
Alexey Lutsenko of Astana emerged from a small but select group of escape artists to win the sixth stage of this year’s race to Mont Aigoual in the Cévennes, while the overall contenders were happy to give some of the lesser lights their moment in the sun.
The eight-man breakaway built a big lead that was enough at one point to put the Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet of CCC in the race lead on the road. Behind them, Yates and his rivals at Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers, were happy to adopt a policy of containment.
With the dwindling breakaway still holding a three-minute advantage towards the top of the narrow, steep and roughly surfaced Col de la Lusette, the toughest climb on the stage, the major contenders let the stage be played out ahead of them.
Up front, Lutsenko had overtaken and shed his last rivals to climb clear to the summit of the Lusette with a 30sec advantage, enough to ensure the Kazakh national champion’s first stage victory in the Tour as he sped over the final kilometres to Mont Aigoual.
“It’s the most important victory of my career,” Lutsenko said. “The Tour is the most important race. I’ve been working really hard to get this victory, it’s a stage that we’ve targeted and I’m delighted that all my hard work paid off.
“We spoke about this stage on the bus this morning and we knew that I had lost enough time in the overall standings to get into the breakaway. I knew I’d be allowed to go but I was also able to put a lot of effort into the final 11 kilometres of the stage, which were the toughest. I was in the right place at the toughest parts of the climb and I just managed to hold on.”
The race leader Yates was shepherded through the stage by his team, with pace-making assistance from Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team and in the final 30km or so, a resurgent Ineos Grenadiers lineup, who led the defending champion Egan Bernal to the top of the Lusette.
“It was a strong breakaway and there were a lot of guys who wanted to get into the break today,” Yates said of his first day wearing the leaders’ yellow jersey. “It was pretty much flat all the way to the climbs, so it was hard to control, but I think we did a good job and in the end I still had [teammates] Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves with me. All in all, a good day.”
Any predicted attacks on his lead failed to materialise. “The final climb wasn’t super steep, so it takes a lot of effort just to get a few seconds. Everyone was just saving energy and keeping it for a later day,” Yates said.
“It was always going to be hard to gain some seconds there, so we defended well and it’s another day in yellow. We’ve got a super strong team here, not just for the flat days but also for the climbing stages. I still want to win a stage, that’s what I came here to do, but it’s hard to throw away time when you’re in the lead. We’ll play it day by day and see what happens.”