Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) won Stage 15 of the 2023 Tour de France thanks to a late attack and some very strong climbing to the summit of Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc.
He had been working hard with his breakaway companions, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), but dropped them both and continuously grew his advantage all the way to the line.
As Poels crossed the line, the top three of the race were all together as Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers) caught up with Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).
Pogacar attacked to drop Rodriguez, but Vingegaard went with him and the pair crossed the finish line together.
Stage 15 of the 2023 Tour de France: How it happened
The stage started frenetically, with so many riders trying to get into the break that it was hard to keep up with what was going on. Just as soon as it looked liked the break may have gone, a team put in a concerted dig and it was all back together again.
Then once a new attempt started, so many riders decided they wanted to be part of it that the string of hopefuls started to form a chain from peloton to breakaway.
As the breakaway was fighting to get a clear, a spectator-caused crash in the main peloton saw the lead group’s advantage jump up. Riders were left on the road while others had to wait a while for replacement bikes. The peloton enforced something of a self-neutralisation for short while, slowing down to let held up riders get back on.
Meanwhile, Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quick Step) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) were powering ahead, already clear when the crash behind happened.
The crash definitely had an impact on the race as it looked far from certain that the breakaway was established and in all likelihood more riders would have got across or the group would have been brought back before a new one went clear.
As it was, with the peloton sitting up to regroup, the lead groups – Alaphilppe and Lutsenko, followed by a large chase – got an advantage of over eight minutes.
The lead pair went through the KOM point clear of the chasers, with Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) beating Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) to third for more points. After the descent, the two lead groups became one again and rode on with an advantage over 7:30 on the peloton.
Marco Haller (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked next, using a descent to get away from the large lead group. As his advantage went over 20 seconds, the gap from the break to the peloton dropped below 6:30.
Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) attacked next – soon catching and passing Haller – aiming for his first stage win since the 2013 Tour. Van Aert and Ciccone had other ideas and drove the group on, reducing the veteran leader’s advantage.
With 1.3km to the summit of the climb on which he’d attacked, Costa was caught. Ciccone came to the front and sprinted for the KOM points, to go into the joint lead of that competition with three climbs to go on the day.
Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) attacked and took maximum points (two) at the crest of the next climb. He was caught and joined by Van Aert, Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and Krists Neilands (Israel-Premier Tech).
Neilands took a bottle from a moto, then his rear wheel made contact with the race vehicle’s front wheel and he was sent skidding across the road into a small wall. It was later reported that he was up and riding, which is good news, but it’s a real shame that his shot at a stage win was stolen away.
The lead trio continued up the road, with a mix of ambitions across the stage win and helping team leaders behind (perhaps mixed across the same rider in Van Aert’s case).
The pair of Wouts dropped Soler on a descent and pushed on with their sights set on a stage win, but between them and glory were two very tough climbs. As Soler was coming back to them on an ascent, Poels attacked Van Aert to go clear. Soler then come round as well, dropping Van Aert from first to third on the stage in fairly short order.
Van Aert regained second place on the road during the short descent between the pair of climbs. By now Poels was all in and pushed his advantage out over 30 seconds ad Soler’s day was over as he went back through the groups.
In the end, Poels won by over two minutes as the GC battle was lighting up – only to end in an entertaining stalemate.