Magnus Cort Nielsen won Denmark’s first stage at the Tour de France since 2009 on Monday morning (AEST) but his victory was overshadowed by Gianni Moscon’s disqualification.
Team Sky rider Moscon was eliminated from the famous race after ‘punching’ Team Fortuneo Samsic rider Elie Gesbert shortly after stage 15 started.
Given Moscon is one of Sky’s key helpers for race leader Geraint Thomas and defending champion Chris Froome, and the fact the British-based team are now down to seven riders, the disqualification could have major ramifications.
Fortuneo Samsic raised the alarm on Twitter, announcing Gesbert “received a punch” from Moscon and after his elimination was confirmed, Team Sky announced they would “support and accept the decision”.
“Gianni is desperately disappointed in his behaviour and knows that he has let himself, the team and the race down,” Team Sky team principal Dave Brailsford said.
“I would like to offer my sincere apologies to both Elie Gesbert and Team Fortuneo Samsic for this unacceptable incident.”
Nielsen beat home Bahrain-Merida’s Ion Izaguirre and Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema to win stage 15, a 181.5km race from Millau to Carcassonne.
There was no change at the top of the general classification standings, with Team Sky’s Thomas still one minute and 39 seconds clear of four-time winner Froome.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin remains 11 seconds adrift of Froome and it appears increasingly likely that this year’s race is a battle between three.
World champion Peter Sagan looks set to win the sprinter’s green jersey for a sixth time, meanwhile, the Slovakian finishing third in the day’s intermediate sprint.
That saw him win his 100th green jersey of his Tour career and Sagan just needs to finish the race to claim the crown again this year.
“It’s amazing, it’s what I’ve been dreaming of since before I could ride a bike,” Nielsen said afterwards.
“It’s my first year here at the Tour. I have to thank my team a lot for believing in me and Michael [Valgren] for helping in the finish.
“Many days ago the team said this was the stage for me and everything worked out perfectly.”
Speaking ahead of a rest day, Thomas, who spent the day with the peloton, told the BBC he was not getting carried away.
“It is rattling through quite nicely and I am looking forward to the rest day,” Thomas said.
“I am not even thinking about winning the Tour de France. I am not even contemplating it.
“There are three big days to go and a hard time trial to come. I will take each day and each climb as it comes and we will see what happens.”
Stage 15 was dominated by a 29-man breakaway group, that included Nielsen, who went clear and controlled proceedings.
Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane decided enough was enough at one point, surging clear of the breakaway to open up a healthy advantage of his own.
But after more than 20km of riding on his own, Calmejane decided to ease off and re-join the breakaway, of which Sagan was involved, too.
Nielsen and teammate Michael Valgren worked well together in preparation for the final surge, which saw the latter drop off.
Left to battle Izaguirre and Mollema for stage victory over the final eight kilometres, Cort bided his time, before storming away from his rivals in the final 200m to claim a drought-breaking victory.
Riders now get a well-deserved rest day before a gruelling 218km mountain stage from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Just six stages are remaining in this year’s race, although three are difficult days through the mountains.
Stage 15 results
1. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) 4 hrs 25 minutes 52 seconds
2. Ion Izaguirre (Bahrain-Merida) same time
3. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) + 2 seconds
4. Michael Valgren (Astana) + 29 seconds
5. Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) + 34 seconds
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) same time
7. Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) same time
8. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) + 37 seconds
9. Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) + 2 minutes 31 seconds
10. Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) same time
General classification standings
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 62 hrs 49 minutes 47 seconds
2. Chris Froome (Team Sky) + 1 minute 39 seconds
3. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) + 1 minute 50 seconds
4. Primoz Roglic (Lotto NL-Jumbo) + 2 minutes 38 seconds
5. Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 3 minutes 21 seconds
6. Mikel Landa Meana (Movistar) + 3 minutes 42 seconds
7. Steven Kruijswik (Lotto NL-Jumbo) + 3 minutes 57 seconds
8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 4 minutes 23 seconds
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) + 6 minutes 14 seconds
10. Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) + 6 minutes 54 seconds