Report: Third week of Tour de France opens with farmer’s protest and massive breakaway  

    It was an eventful start to the third and final week of the Tour de France. The breakaway took more than 100 kilometers to take shape after the peloton rolled out of Carcassonne. #PinkArgyle was among the early attackers on stage 16 with Simon Clarke, Sep Vanmarcke and Pierre Rolland repeatedly represented in the early break attempts.

    “Since Rigo[berto Uran] left the race, it’s been our objective to chase breakaways every day,” said road captain Simon Clarke. “Today was no different, particularly knowing that today was a really good chance for the breakaway to stay away, which it did.

    “The idea today was to have Pierre in the move,” Clarke noted. “He’s our best climber, and with the final climbs we had to tackle today, he was our best guy for today’s break.”

    It was Clarke rather than Rolland who eventually made it up the road. The Australian was part of a 44-rider breakaway that formed in the third hour of racing.

    “It’s always tricky to handle a break of that size,” said Clarke. “There’s never very much control when the group is so big. I was quite tired already, having gone on a lot of attacks in the first 100km, and with the quality of the breakaway that did form, I wasn’t very competitive in the end of the stage – but it was good to be present.”

    Before the escape forced clear, the race was disrupted by protesting farmers, who blocked the road with hay bales.

    “Basically a kilometer before we came to the blockage, we heard over the radio that there was some sort of protest,” Clarke explained. “We came down this little dip, and there were remnants of hay bales all over the road. Obviously the police had cleared things up quickly.

    “Unfortunately as we came past, the police were trying to detain some of the protesters,” Clarke added. “They used pepper spray to do that. Although it was obviously not directed at us, the wind blew the spray back across the road and into the peloton. Quite a lot of riders were impacted, including me.”

    Clarke described the sensation as similar to a bee sting.

    “My face swelled and went a bit numb,” Clarke said. “My throat hurt a bit, too. A.S.O. handled it well, stopping the race immediately. They had all the doctors there, explaining to us that the effects would pass within 20 minutes or so, and that’s about how long they had us neutralized.”

    For those on #CraddockWatch: Lawson Craddock reached the finish line in Bagnères-de-Luchon alongside teammate Sep Vanmarcke 31’26 down on stage winner Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-Floors).

    Visit Pro Cycling Stats for complete stage 16 results.

    Racing continues tomorrow with what might be the toughest stage of the Tour. Stage 17 includes Montée de Peyragudes (category one), Col de Val Louron-Azet (category one) and Col du Portet (HC) in a route that measures only 65 kilometers.

    “Wednesday’s stage was already a tough day on paper and now taking into consideration the stage we had today, how hard we raced today, that’s going to make it even tougher,” said Clarke. “It’s going to be quite interesting to see this new start style A.S.O has implemented. I think a lot of people are curious how that will turn out. What we do know is that we need our climbing legs and that it’s going to be a time trial from stage start to finish.”