Tour de France Stage 12: Sorensen breaks from the break to win
Danish rider strongest of the seven escapees
Tonnerre - Vittel 211.5km
A break from the break from the break was the decisive move in today's lumpy stage. Nicki Sorensen was the man involved in both moves, first dragging Calazati from a group of seven escapees and then kicking away on a solo mission to take the stage by half a minute.
The 211km from Tonnerre to Vittel was a different prospect from the day before, with six minor climbs to sap the energy from the legs of the sprinters. Last up was a short but very sharp ascent to the Cat 3 Côte de Bourmont, but with a reasonably short 41km after the final summit to the finish line it looked like a stage where a break would have a chance of staying away.
Not that a break was forthcoming: plenty of riders tried but nothing stuck as the pace stayed high from the previous day. David Millar took the points on the first climb of the Côte de Baon; Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) came to the fore to contest the second, the Côte de Bye-sur-Seine, and it was the Italian who took the three points. He also took a point on the third to edge closer to Martinez in the KoM standings. Mark Cavendish was in evidence hunting for points in the intermediate sprints for the first time, taking the first sprint at 32km ahead of Thor Hushovd.
Finally, after nearly 80km of racing, a break managed to stick and it included Pellizotti, off in search of more mountain points, and Martinez who followed him almost by default. Sorensen (Saxo Bank), Lefevre (Bouygues), Calzati (Agritubel), Fothen (Milram) and Pauriol (Cofidis) joined them and the seven strung the lead out to four minutes, at which point the peloton stepped up the pace to stop them riding any further away. Pellizotti continued to sneak back points in the KoM, taking first place over the Côte des Grands-Bois, the Côte de Morlaix and the 3rd category Côte de Bourmont. Martinez placed second each time.
The lead of four minutes over the final climb and the experience of the riders in the leading group meant that it was going to take a concerted effort from the sprint teams over the last 40km to reel the break in. With seven teams represented in the escapees, and no great desire from Astana to pull in the leaders there wasn't many teams left with the will and resources to make up the time. At 25km the gap hadn't changed much and at that point it looked odds on that one of the leading seven would be taking the stage. Nicki Sorensen seemed to think so too: he attacked with 22km to go and managed to sneak away with only Sylvain Calzati in tow.
At 20km the peloton gave up the chase and Sorensen and Calzati had a slim 12 second lead on the rest of the break but it was a lead that was increasing. Sorensen, the highest placed rider in the break at 10' 36", was the man with most to gain: with the peloton already five minutes behind and losing time he was looking to catapult himself into the top 20, and a stage win would be the icing on the cake.
Pellizotti, who lost out agonisingly to Pierrick Fedrigo on stage 9, put a lot of work in on the front of the group of five in the hope of dragging back the two leaders and slowly but surely the advantage started to slip. But Nicki Sorensen wasn't finished by any means: with 5km to go he kicked again to leave Calzati in his wake, and within 2km he'd put 25 seconds into the chasing group as Pauriol got spat out of the back, a spent force.
Under the flamme rouge there was no way Sorensen was going to be caught, and he had plenty of time to milk the adulation of the crowd as he cruised home. Second place came down to a sprint from the chasing bunch, and Lefevre took second, with Pellizotti third.
There was still time for incident: with green jersey points on offer for the peloton, Cavendish forewent his normal leadout train, tacking onto Cervelo's train instead and powering past Hushovd to take eighth place on the line, leading the peloton home nearly six minutes down. Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer were casualties of a crash in the final stages, but since it was in the last 3km they were given the same time as the group; in reality they rolled home a couple of minutes down.