BERGERAC, France (AP) A rain-soaked stage across southwest France that was earmarked for sprinters became instead the occasion for a hard-won victory by U.S. team Garmin-Sharp’s Ramunas Navardauskas.
The finale of Friday’s 208.5-kilometer (130-mile) stage from Maubourguet to Bergerac was disrupted when a chasing pack of sprinters crashed in the rain-slick final kilometers, leaving Navardauskas to claim Lithuania’s first Tour de France stage victory.
Here are five things to know about Friday’s Stage 19 of the Tour de France:
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RAMUNAS DE BERGERAC: Stage 19 winner Ramunas Navardauskas’ teammates were unanimous in their praise of the Lithanian rider’s performance Friday, which they said confirmed qualities they’ve long known about but which the rider they call ”Honey Badger” has tended to keep quiet about.
Garmin-Sharp teammate Jack Bauer was still bleeding from a crash in the finale and wasn’t even sure who’d won when he stopped shortly after the finish line to talk to reporters.
Bauer wasn’t surprised when told Navardauskas had clinched the solo breakaway win under a steady downpour in Bergerac.
”I’m really proud of Ramunas, he’s an awesome teammate, an awesome rider, he’s been an awesome roomate for me the whole tour, and I’m stoked for him,” said Bauer, who was taken down in a pileup near the end of Friday’s stage that also knocked down Green Jersey holder Peter Sagan.
”He always does his job and whenever he gets an opportunity he capitalizes on it. And this was an opportuntity that he really took hold of today,” Bauer added.
Navardauskas is riding his third Tour. Garmin-Sharp riders praise him as a model teammate who always puts the team’s interests ahead of his own.
”We have to fight with him not to be the first guy to bring rain jackets to the car and go and get bidons (water bottles) because he’s just a little bit too kind,” said Garmin-Sharp sports director Charly Wegelius.
Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar, who wasn’t selected for the team’s Tour de France squad, chimed in on Twitter to add his praise for Navardauskas.
”Amazing. Ramunus aka Honey Badger was my replacement. Job well done. Legend,” Millar said.
LITHUANIAN PRIDE: Navardauskas’ win made headlines in his home country of Lithunia. National daily Lietuvos Rytas headlined its website ”Ramunas Navardauskas Rewrites History with Tour de France Stage Win” and free tabloid 15 Min splashed the news of the country’s first Tour de France stage winner across its homepage.
”Ramunas is so strong and we’ve known it for so long, for him to be able to show it on this stage is really what him and the whole team deserves,” said Garmin-Sharp sports director Charly Wegelius.
The rider’s Garmin-Sharp team had gone through several heartbreaking losses earlier in the three-week race: first the exit from injury of Andrew Talansky, the team’s best hope for a high overall result, then Jack Bauer’s crushing defeat in the final meters of Stage 15 in Nimes.
”It’s something very important for the team and for the morale of everyone. It’s very important for him too,” said Garmin-Sharp teammate Johan Van Summeren shortly after finishing.
The Belgian rider said that the team was scared in the final kilometers that Navardauskas’ breakaway would experience the same bitter fate as Bauer’s.
”It was going crazy in our earpieces, Wegelius was screaming `Allez! Allez! Allez! (Go! Go! Go!)”’ Van Summeren said.
Another teammate, U.S. rider Alex Howes, said the joy of Navardauskas’ win was multiplied given the team’s disappointing race so far.
”Ever since we lost Talansky, we’ve been, I don’t want to use the word desperate but we’ve been looking of every opportunity we can find, and you know you kind of make your own opportunities, today it finally paid off,” Howes said, ”It’s been a hard two weeks or so of fighting, so I’m pretty excited.”
REST DAY TEST: Riders got an anti-doping surprise on the Tour’s second rest day: Blood tests on everyone still racing.
Bruno Genevois, the head of France’s anti-doping agency, said Friday that the tests were conducted Monday and were the most wide-scale blood checks during the race since he took over four years ago. They came as part of a ”strategic” decision to help enhance data in the UCI’s biological passport system, Genevois said in a phone interview.
So far, Genevois said, he knows of no positive tests. The process of carting samples to accredited laboratories and having them tested takes time, and the final results from the peloton should come no later than 15 days after the Tour’s finish Sunday, he said.
Regular testing involves checks of select riders after each stage, and ”so far it’s taking place smoothly,” he said. His agency, known by the French acronym AFLD, is working with UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation to carry out the controls in this Tour as part of a deal struck in February.
A number of doping scandals over the last generation or so, led by Lance Armstrong’s admission after years of denials that he’d cheated on his way to seven Tour victories, has prompted a number of measures including the biological passport system to track riders’ biological changes in the hope of catching drugs cheats.
HORNER’S PANACHE: American rider Chris Horner, 42, is riding his seventh and most likely last Tour de France for the Italian team Lampre-Merida. The 2013 Spanish Vuelta champion and climbing specialist made what may be remembered as his last show of panache in the Tour on Thursday’s stage, attacking midway up the final Hautacam climb, rated ”beyond category,” before being reeled in by yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali.
Asked before the start of Friday’s stage in Maubourguet if he’s got another card up his sleeve before bidding goodbye to the Tour, Horner just laughed.
”No it’s over, there’s no more show, there’s no more climbs, there’s not much else to do,” Horner said.
Horner managed to avoid Friday’s late crash and rode in with a large group credited with the same time as second-place finisher John Degenkolb of Germany. He now sits in 17th place overall.
While the race’s final two stages are earmarked for time trialists and sprinters, climber Horner says Sunday’s finish with nine laps on Paris’ Champs Elysees could be the occasion for him to grab screen time one last time.
”Yeah sure, you try to get in the break or something like that on the Champs Elysees, it’s kind of fun and it’s the last day,” Horner said.
The American was seriously injured in April in a training accident in northern Italy. He was hospitalized with a punctured lung, four broken ribs and cuts on his head. Horner won the Vuelta last year at the age of 41 to become the oldest Grand Tour champion, a title he says he’ll defend in August.
TIME ON HIS SIDE? American Tejay van Garderen sums up the key to his strategy going into Saturday’s decisive time trial with one word: Pacing.
”Pacing – you can’t go out too hard, you can’t go out too easy,” said Van Garderen, who’s currently in sixth place overall. ”Pacing is everything.”
The 25-year-old Montana native is a strong contender in the race-against-the-clock, finishing fourth in the 2012 time trial world championship shortly after winning the Tour de France’s white jersey for best young rider.
The leader of the BMC Racing team predicted earlier in the Tour that, if he went into Saturday’s race no more than a minute down on his key rivals, he’d have a chance at making the Tour’s final podium.
Two tough days in the Pyrenees pushed Van Garderen well outside that cushion, and he’s now looking at a more than four-minute deficit to third-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud and fourth-placed Alejandro Valverde – a nearly impossible amount of time to grab back in just under an hour of racing against the clock on Saturday.
BMC Sport Director Valerio Piva said the team did its job to get Van Garderen into position to make a final move in the standings. ”It was a difficult day with the rain and wind,” he said. ”But the team stayed the entire time around Tejay … Now is the time trial and we have hope.”
Associated Press reporter Jamey Keaten in Bergerac, France, contributed to this report.