NIMES, France — Almost at the line, Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger were exhausted but could envision their first Tour de France stage victory. But those last 50 meters got in the way.
A bunch of sprinters leading the pack came speeding like a runaway train and plowed past the huffing breakaway duo in the final milliseconds. Stage 15 belonged to Norwegian speedster Alexander Kristoff, his second stage victory in this Tour.
The 138-mile stage went smoothly for overall leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy. He made sure his main rivals couldn’t claw back any time, and he kept his yellow jersey by finishing in the trailing pack.
After two days in the Alps, Sunday’s stage offered some relief over a flat course from Tallard, southeast France’s parachuting capital, toward Nimes, known for its Roman arena and bullfighting. More relief comes today — a second rest day.
Bauer is a New Zealander who had a better shot of holding off the sprinters than Swiss champion Elmiger. Bauer dropped his bike after the finish line, sat on the ground and cupped his face in his hands, crying. They had led nearly from the starter’s gun.
“It’s a fantasy for any cyclist to win a stage at the Tour and especially for a Kiwi cyclist, not many of us turn pro and not many of us get a chance to start the Tour de France,” Bauer said.
The rider, 29, came to the Tour to help Garmin-Sharp leader Andrew Talansky, who dropped out before Stage 12 because of injuries from an earlier crash.
The pack perfectly timed its move on the breakaway duo and proved too strong. Bauer was pedaling with his last remaining strength, and when he looked back a last time they were already zooming by. He finished 10th, with Elmiger 16th.
“Of course, that’s a pity for them, but I don’t feel sorry for them,” said Kristoff, noting that sprinters usually reign in such stages.
Nibali leads Spain’s Alejandro Valverde by 4:37. American Tejay van Garderen is fifth, 5:49 back.