By Julien Pretot
NIMES France (Reuters) - It all ended in tears for Garmin-Sharp domestique Jack Bauer after his chance of realizing a boyhood dream and winning a Tour de France stage was snatched away from him in the final 50 meters after a 222km breakaway.
With team leader Andrew Talansky injured and gone, the Garmin-Sharp domestiques have been given a free ride on the Tour and Bauer almost made the most of the opportunity on Sunday's 15th stage.
The New Zealander formed the breakaway of the day with Swiss Martin Elmiger of the IAM team and after a tense finale, he was caught as the line approached by the chasing bunch.
"It's just a bitter, bitter disappointment. It's a childhood dream to win a stage of the tour and for a domestique, like myself, I'm normally working for others," said Bauer, who broke down in tears after the finish of the stage won by Norway's Alexander Kristoff.
"This was my first chance to be up the road and with the change in the wind and the weather, me and Martin realized we had a chance for the win."
Swirling winds and tough weather, with heavy rain and storms, as well as multiple roundabouts in the final kilometers, made it hard for the chasing pack.
The duo had a 13-second lead with one kilometer left and had started the usual cat-and-mouse mind game to win a two-man sprint.
Bauer was fresher than Elmiger but he was missing a few drops of juice to go all the way.
"I faked to be tired but felt I had more punch left. I left it until 400 meters to go. I thought I had it," said Bauer.
That's when the peloton, with sprinters speeding at over 60 kph, whizzed past him.
"I thought I had it but then I realized in the last 50 meters, that I had nothing," he said.
Bauer, like other riders in the Garmin-Sharp team, had his leash loosened after American Talansky, who had an outside chance of a podium finish before the start of the race, withdrew with back pains earlier this week.
Before he could fight for the stage win, he had to jockey for a spot in the breakaway.
"A break is not just a group of people who are stronger than the other 180 riders and they just ride away. It's a shuffle at the start of the stage, it's a positioning thing, it's a motivational thing after two hard days," said Bauer.
"A lot of people wanted a sprint finish but for us it was important. After losing Talansky and not really having many stages in the last week that suit, today was a day we wanted to gamble that a break would stay away. It was so close but so far."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Tony Goodson)