The 18th stage of the Tour de France would be a stern test for the riders, a test that Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) would pass with flying colours, as he soloed to victory. Serge Pauwels was absolutely fantastic once again, finishing in 6th place for Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung.
As has been the order of proceedings over the last few stages, a big breakaway went clear in the opening kilometers of the stage. Serge made sure that he was part of the 29 riders that went clear. Team Giant-Alpecin and Trek Factory Racing made it tough for the break to get much of a lead as they hovered around 3 minutes for most of the day.
The parcours would provide for the toughest test though as no less than 7 categorised climbs would be completed today, including the massive out of category Col d’ Glandon as the penultimate climb of the day. Serge was consistently brilliant, riding within himself to always stay in touch with the front runners in the break. Over the Glandon, Bardet attacked while Serge summited in 5th place.
It was a mad dash to the final climb of the day and Bardet’s superior descending skills saw him start the picturesque Lacets de Montvernier with a 40 second lead over the 8 chasers that remained, including Serge. In an every man for himself effort for the final 13km of the stage, Bardet would not be caught. Serge used the last bit of the strength he had left to secure 6th place for our African team.
Serge would move up 1 spot on the general classification to 14th and Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung held on to its 2nd place in the overall team competition.
Serge Pauwels – Rider
It was the same story as the last few days with Sky setting a solid pace from the beginning but still a number of guys were getting into the break. I made sure I was up there again but today was a lot harder than any of the other days. I was really struggling in the beginning but I kept believing in myself. On the Glandon I was feeling better and actually went over the climb in the top 10 still. I think this was the best result I could do today, maybe I could have done a better sprint at the end for 3rd but I was the whole day fighting on my limit so I am happy.
Michel Cornelisse – Sport Director
Today was again an amazing day for the team. After such a hard Tour de France we had Serge Pauwels in the break again and he made it to the finish. 6th place for our team is amazing.