Africa’s Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka just missed a podium finish in Thursday’s 18th stage of the Tour de France.
It was Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) who sprinted to the stage victory, beating Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates) to the line in Pau.
Dimension Data’s big Norwegian, Edvald Boasson Hagen finished in a credible fourth place.
The stage was the penultimate sprint opportunity of the race, with the only other flat stage being the final stage in Paris on Sunday.
So it was no surprise then that Groupama-FDJ and UAE-Emirates were intent on controlling the stage from early on. Five strong riders got into the early break of the day and so the two main sprint teams kept the gap down under the 2min mark all day.
This did prompt a few attacks during the day as some teams tried to bridge across to the break, but Groupama-FDJ were highly motivated and followed all the moves.
In the end, with 15km to go, the break was neutralised and the sprinters would have their day. The African team had Boasson Hagen for the finish and the team rallied around the Norwegian leading into the technical finale. Julien Vermote and Jay Thomson did some early positioning work for Boasson Hagen before Reinardt Janse van Rensburg entered the scene with 3km to go.
Janse van Rensburg did an incredible job to lead out Boasson Hagen, rivalling the three or four-rider sprint trains of Groupama and Bora-Hansgrohe on his own. A final big turn by the South African in the last kilometre saw him deliver Boasson Hagen to fourth wheel with just 500m to go.
The speed was so high though that nobody could really accelerate further from that point.
Demare repaid his teammate’s efforts by taking the win ahead of Laporte and Kristoff. Boasson Hagen’s fourth place was Dimension Data’s best stage result of this year’s Tour.
Janse van Rensburg said of the stage: ‘It was a really technical finish today but also a pretty strange day overall. There was a very strong breakaway which Groupama and UAE controlled. Towards the end it became really hectic because very few teams have lead-out teams and everybody wants to sprint now.
‘So it was rather chaotic but we were able to get into a good position in the end and were in with a real chance. I’ve been suffering the last few days but the legs are finally coming around now.
‘The Champs-Elysee is the king of the sprint stages and always a dream for a sprinter to win there, we have a good chance there with Eddy, so I’m looking forward to that.’
Added Boasson Hagen: ‘Today I was just trying to find a good wheel and be up there. Reinardt did really well to take me as far as he did, that was very good.
‘After he was gone with his pull it was really hard to accelerate because the speed was already so high and I didn’t have any bigger gears. I don’t think anybody actually changed position that much in the sprint.’