Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott has won the first Pyrenean stage of this year's Tour de France, outsprinting Astana's Pello Bilbao and Gregor Muhlberger of Bora-Hansgrohe to win Stage 12 of the race in Bagneres-de-Bigorre to take his maiden stage at the race. There was nno change at the top of the overall standings, with Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step retaining an advantage of 1 minute 12 seconds over defending champion Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos ahead of tomorrow's individual time trial.
The trio had been members of a big breakaway group that formed an hour or so into the 209.5-kilometre stage from Toulouse, and Yates, who last year led the Giro d'Italia for a fortnight and went on to win the Vuelta, has now won stages at all three Grand Tours.
It was an hour into today’s 209.5-kilometre stage from Toulouse until a breakaway got clear and when it did, it was a huge group comprising more than 40 riders, the successful move initiated by EF Education First’s Simon Clarke.
Among the riders to make the break were Tim Wellens of Lotto-Soudal, wearing the polka-dot jersey and looking to increase his lead in the mountains classification, and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan, who accomplished his goal of securing maximum points at the intermediate sprint as he heads towards a record seventh green jersey.
Next came the first of the day’s two Category 1 climbs, the Col de Peyresourde, which saw the breakaway fall apart and Total-Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane, in the break for the second day in succession, launch a solo attack.
He was caught by Wellens just before the summit, however, as the Belgian increased his mountains points haul to 11, and after cresting the climb it was Clarke who attacked and led the race down towards the start of the final climb, the Horquette d’Ancizan.
On that ascent, leadership of the stage ebbed and flowed as attack after attack came from the remaining riders from the break, but it was Yates – here to work primarily as a super-domestique for twin brother Adam and with no overall ambitions of his own – who led Muhlberger over the top, with 30 kilometres still to ride, Bilbao latching onto them on the way down.
Back in the overall contenders’ group, which crossed the line almost 10 minutes behind the day’s winner, Deceuninck-Quick Step and, later on, Team Ineos, controlled the pace for much of the day, with the GC riders saving their legs for tomorrow’s individual time trial and, beyond that, Saturday’s summit finish on the Tourmalet.
Among riders abandoning today were the Team Dimension Data sprinter, Giacomo Nizzolo, who was struggling following a crash yesterday, and the Bahrain-Merida rider Rohan Dennis.
Mystery surrounded the reasons for Dennis abandoning the race and his team initially seemed unaware of his whereabouts, although it appears that he got off his bike at the feed zone and headed back to the team bus in a Bahrain-Merida car.
The Australian is world time trial champion and would have been one of the favourites for tomorrow’s stage against the clock which starts and finishes in Pau.
Stage winner Simon Yates
I’ve been saving energy all the way until we got here in the mountains and this is my first chance to try something. Normally I’ve been back in the peloton helping Adam, but today I had my own chance so I’ve grabbed it with both hands.
I wasn’t very confident of beating either of them [in the sprint], I didn’t really know how fast they were, I just knew from the directors in the car, they told I needed to be in the front coming around the last corner, so I made sure to do that and luckily I held on to win.
Really my main priority here is to help Adam and today was just one of the chances to get up the road, so we’ll see how we go in the next few days. We’re having a fantastic Tour and long may it continue.
Race leader Julian Alaphilippe
It’s difficult to explain what it means to hold the yellow jersey on its 100th birthday tomorrow. It means a lot and firstly, it makes me proud.
I’m very happy to lead the Tour de France. It’ll enable me to start the time trial last tomorrow.
It motivates me to hurt myself even more than usual. I’ll push my limits.
Points classification leader Peter Sagan
It wasn’t really fun today. I wanted to be in the break so I could get points on the intermediate sprint.
It was really hard to make it into the break, as it took 50 kilometres for it to be made.
Come the intermediate sprint, I’m happy Daniel Oss was with me because he helped me bring back Roger Kluge, who tried to anticipate us, and that enabled me to get maximum points.
From then on I took it easy, as I knew today was not my stage and there were many better climbers than me on the front group.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.