CHAMBÉRY, France (VN) — Rigoberto Urán just won a Tour de France stage on a single speed.
Urán’s derailleur hanger was bent, his shifting broken and skipping and his derailleur pinging against the spokes. With less than 20km remaining and a stage win on the line he asked a yellow-clad Mavic neutral service mechanic to reach down at race speed and fix it.
“We came through and I saw the gears, the derailleur hanger was bent,” said Max Ruphy, the Mavic mechanic who leaned out the window. “It was touching the spokes. It was stuck at the top. So I put it in the middle, and it wasn’t still working. I tried reconnecting it and still wasn’t working. So I just told him I’ll put it on the biggest gear, on the 11, so you can finish and don’t lose time. And he was like ‘Yes let’s do it.’”
“When we finally got here with the car, it just wasn’t possible to fix it at that stage,” said Urán’s Cannondale-Drapac director Charly Wegelius. “The speed was so high, it just wasn’t an option. He just had to go.”
A 53/11 gear is massive for a sprint like the one Uran was about to face. His pedaling cadence was visibly slower than his rivals, and he was forced to start the sprint early just so he had time to wind up the gear. He never truly got on top of it, still grinding away as he crossed the finish line. But it was enough, at the end of the Tour de France’s hardest stage, to pip Warren Barguil (Sunweb) for the victory.
(Technically, Urán was a two-speed. It appears that his front derailleur still worked. But the little ring isn’t all that helpful on a flat run-in to the finish. So he was effectively on a single.)
Cannondale’s Colombian proved that he’s back on grand tour contender form with his ride to Planche des Belles Filles in stage 5, where he was 7th. On Sunday, he put a 53/11-sized exclamation mark on that ride. He now sits in 4th overall, just 55 seconds behind Chris Froome.
“We knew from the 5th stage that he was in good shape,” Wegelius said. “Of course. the Tour is a long race and many things can happen. But we knew he was going go well.”
The team isn’t getting ahead of itself though. “We were working on stage wins from the very start, that was always on the top of our list,” Wegelius said. “Urán’s good. Everybody can see that. But it’s a long long way.”
Urán’s place on GC certainly limits his options. “Obviously that reduces the other chances you can take, because you’re not going to get any space to get in the breakaway,” Wegelius said.
Still, if Sunday is anything to go by Uran is confident in his ability to win from the GC group. Breakaways are not the only option for a rider who can win without shifting.
The photo-finish victory was also a bit of sweet revenge for Urán, who avenged an identical loss to Warren Barguil four years ago on stage 16 of the 2013 Vuelta a España.
“It’s something great,” said the two-time Giro d’Italia runner-up after the stage. “I’ve won a hugely important stage and I’m delighted. I didn’t know if I’d won or not, when I was told it was a sweet surprise for me.
“It was a tough day,” Urán continued. “I thought it was a joke when I was told I’d won because I really didn’t know.”