He was the long shot in the horse race. Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) won stage 19 at the Tour de France in the pouring rain. Had it not been for the massive crash of the peloton, he might not have made victory. But he did. The 26-year-old Lithuanian rider was almost dead last in every stage of this year’s Tour. Today, he got into the record books as Tour stage winner. Here’s how it happened:
Today’s route was 130-miles from Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour to Bergerac. With eight miles to go in the race, Navardauskas attacked on the final climb– the only categorized hill of the day — the cote de Monbazillac. With about one mile left, he was alone, 20 seconds ahead of a furious chase from the sprinter’s teams. And then… crash! Several riders in the pack went down on the rain-slicked pavement including notable contenders Romain Bardet (AG2R), Frank Schleck (Trek) and sprinter Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Riders who avoided hitting the deck were stuck behind others trying to get up. In the meantime, Navardauskas was time trialing to the finish line ahead of them all.
It was an important victory for team Garmin-Sharp, who lost its star rider Andrew Talansky to a crash earlier in the Tour. And Navardauskas achieved what his teammate Jack Bauer could not. Bauer was caught at the line last Sunday in the finishing sprint.
“I knew I had 20 to 25 seconds lead for all those last ten kilometers or so but I didn’t know what was happening behind me really,” Navardauskas said. “When five top sprinters go full gas shoulder to shoulder, it’s amazing how fast they go and it’s hard to stay ahead of them. So I just went as fast as I could, hoping I wouldn’t end like Jack who was caught with 25 meters to go. I was afraid of turning back. I didn’t want to lose and tell myself later that I could have done better. I gave all the energy I had left.”
Navardauskas finished seven seconds ahead of the approaching pack. Anyone with money on this horse would have made a bundle.
Because the wreck happened inside the 3km mark, all riders got the same finish time with no effect on the overall standings. Italy’s Vicenzo Nibali (Astana) leads the tour with a seven minute gap. He essentially could ride tomorrow’s 33-mile time trial, stop for coffee and a baquette and still hold onto the yellow jersey. C’est incroyable!