Cycling: Pantano gives Colombia cheer with Tour stage win

Colombia's Jarlinson Pantano celebrating as he crosses the finish line at the end of the 160km fifteenth stage of the 103rd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 17, 2016.
Colombia's Jarlinson Pantano celebrating as he crosses the finish line at the end of the 160km fifteenth stage of the 103rd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 17, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

CULOZ, FRANCE (AFP) - Jarlinson Pantano finally provided some joy for Colombia at the Tour de France by winning Sunday's 15th stage.

The country's top rider Nairo Quintana has been strangely out of sorts over the Tour's first two weeks, and sits fourth overall at 2min 59sec behind race leader Chris Froome.

But there was celebration after Pantano outsprinted Poland's Rafal Majka to win the 160km mountainous stage from Bourg en Bresse to Culoz.

"This is incredible. It's a dream come true," he said.

"I came to the Tour de France for that, but I didn't believe it could happen. I'm very happy."

The 27-year-old had proved last month he was in good shape by finishing fourth at the Tour of Switzerland.

And while Majka seemed the stronger climber on a day that included six categorised ascents, Pantano's descending skills proved crucial.

He was dropped by Majka on both the last two climbs of the day, but each time closed the gap on the descent.

Behind, the Tour favourites spent the day marking each other and there was no change to the overall positions, with Dutchman Bauke Mollema remaining second at 1min 47secs and young Briton Adam Yates third at 2min 45sec.

Froome said he was in control and said he was surprised that no-one attacked.

"I was surprised that we weren't more attacked out there," said the 31-year-old Briton.

"I really thought today's stage was a perfect opportunity for the other teams to put us under pressure, especially with (his Sky team-mate) Geraint Thomas getting a puncture on the second last climb out there - we were one man down." The only change in the top 10 saw American Tejay Van Garderen dropped on the final climb and lose almost a minute and a half, dropping from sixth overall to eighth.

A 30-man group got clear of the peloton on the opening first category climb of the day inside 20km.

It broke up on the hors category Grand Colombier climb inside the final 60km, with 13 riders left at the front, 8min 30sec ahead of the peloton.

Russian Ilnur Zakarin and Majka went clear on the first of two climbs up the Grand Colombier and pulled out a gap of more than a minute.

The peloton had closed to 7min 45sec by the summit of the Grand Colombier but it was clear the stage victory would be decided up front.

Pantano and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe caught the front two on the mountain's descent, 42km from the finish.

But as it happened, Zakarin was dropped - the Russian, who crashed badly in May's Giro d'Italia, was simply more circumspect than his fellow escapees on the fast descent.

Alaphilippe's hopes were destroyed by a problem with his bike, leaving him stranded on the side of the road as Pantano and Majka soldiered on.

The front two had a lead of just over 30sec by the start of the the second, shorter climb of the Grand Colombier, by a different route known as the "laces", with the peloton 6min 40sec down.

Majka managed to drop Pantano with 18km left and went over the top with a 24sec lead over Switzerland's Sebastien Reichenbach and the Colombian.

Majka almost lost all hope of victory when he briefly went off the road on the descent, 11km out from the finish.

And it cost him as he was caught by Pantano a couple of kilometres later.

Two kilometres from the end the two leaders had 16sec on the chasing pair of Reichenbach and Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz.

They started playing cat and mouse in the final kilometre but had just enough room to contest the sprint before Vuillermoz beat Reichenbach for third.