André Greipel of Lotto-Belisol took his third stage victory of the 2012 Tour de France in Cap d'Agde this afternoon from Liquigas-Cannondale's Peter Sagan, the pair overhauling Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen within sight of the line after the Norwegian had been given a terrific leadout by, of all people, maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins. The overall leader had moved to the front of a small leading group after the flamme rouge to close down an attack from Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez and Mathieu Sprick of Argos-Shimano. Astana's Alexander Vinokouov and Michael Albasini of Orica-GreenEdge had attacked following the descent from a short but tough climb some 25 kilometres out on which defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing had unsuccessfully sought to distance Wiggins.
Albasini and Vinokourov were swept up with two and a half kilometres to go, Lotto-Belisol forcing the pace to try and set up Greipel, with the wind causing some big splits in the peloton but none of the riders towards the top of the GC taking time from their rivals. As ever on Bastille Day, several French riders got into the break, but it was Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank's Michael Morkov who scooped the day's combativity prize as he rode off solo on the fifth anniversary of his father's death, only to be caught on that climb as the stage headed towards its denouement.
It was a nervous peloton that headed into the final 30 kilometres or so of today’s 217-kilometre stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to the Mediterranean coast, not only due to crosswinds, but also as a result of reports that the Category 3 Mont Saint-Clair climb, a 1.6-kilometre uphill drag at an average gradient of 10.2 per cent, looked a lot tougher in the flesh than it had seemed from the roadbook.
Passing through the ancient fishing port of Sète shortly before that climb, confirmation of that tension came as a crash brought down a number of riders including Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff, leader of the mountains classification.
There had already been a split in the peloton shortly before that as BMC Racing put down the hammer as the wind gusted in from the Mediterranean.
Morkov, who had himself worn the polka dot jersey after getting into several escapes during the opening week of the race, hit the foot of the climb with a minute’s advantage over the chasing peloton.
The Dane had made little secret of the fact that he planned to go on the attack again today in memory of his late father, and managed to get himself into the day’s break which reached its final composition of eight riders nearly 30 kilometres into the stage, with attacks from the moment the race left the neutralised zone.
With today being the Fête Nationale, all the French teams in the race, with the exception of Europcar, which has two stage wins in the bag this week, were represented in the break.
Besides Morkov, the escape group comprised five Frenchmen – FDJ BigMat’s Matthieu Ladagnous, Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun, AG2r La Mondiale’s Maxime Bouet, the Cofidis rider Samuel Dumoulin and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Jerome Pineau – plus two other foreigners, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Pablo Urtasun and Argos Shimano’s Roy Curvers.
With 63 kilometres still to ride, Morkov decided to go it alone, but with a lead of just three minutes at the 50 kilometre to go mark and Orica-GreenEdge forcing the pace at the front of the peloton for Matt Goss – who like Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish wouldn’t, as it turned out, figure in the finale – the Dane never looked like he would achieve his dream of victory.
On the ascent of the Mont Saint-Clair, Evans tested Wiggins’ resolve by attacking and briefly opening up a gap on Wiggins and Team Sky colleague Froome, second overall, as well as Liquigas-Cannondale’s Nibali, but there was no panic and the defending champion was brought back ahead of the summit.
As the lead group headed towards the finish Vinokourov, whose career seemed to have come to an end after he broke his leg in a crash on last year’s Tour, rolled back the years by going on the attack but neither he nor Albasini, who got across to the Kazakh rider, looked like establishing a decisive advantage over the peloton.
Lotto-Belisol’s work in ensuring that the front pair would be caught was rewarded through Greipel’s win, the German also benefiting from that leadout from two former colleagues at Team Columbia, getting onto Boasson Hagen’s wheel as Wiggins sought to lead out the Norwegian as a way of thanking him for the work he has done in helping defend the maillot jaune.
Stage winner André Greipel, Lotto-Belisol:
“It was close until the end. I was dropped on the climb but I was going full gas on the way up and I had to do a sprint at the top to get in a small group and Lars Bak brought me back and then the team chased Vinokourov and Albasini. Then, when Luis Léon Sanchez attacked I thought, ‘Okay, now it's over...' but I was happy that Sky was still there and I could work out how to win this stage because I think my team deserves it.
“I think this was a really nice victory for the team. Jurgen van den Broeck was pulling to get the move by Vinokourov back and so I think I can only be happy with this team.
“I chose the wheel of Boasson Hagen and it was a really crazy sprint with that last corner but I'm happy that I could stay in front. There was a bit of a headwind but I think Sagan is a really fast guy and that's why he has the green jersey; but we deserve this because we worked really hard for this victory.”
Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale, second today and Points Classification leader:
“For me to win today, I might have had to start my final sprint a little bit earlier. I lost only because of the final lunge to the line. Also, the team of Lotto was very, very strong. They did very good work for Greipel in the last 20 kilometres so it was good for him that he won. I don't think he's stronger than me but that's sprinting – one time he wins, another time I win...”
Maillot jaune, Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
“Most of the time you're doing the same effort whether you're on front or 20th or 30th wheel with a finish like that with the wind doing what it was. There was no extra exertion doing the lead-out and it was just nice to help Eddie [Boasson Hagen] because he's an absolute gentleman and I'd like to be able to pay him back in some way. But obviously [André] Greipel proved once again that he's the fastest man.
“It's always difficult and it's better at times when you've got a climb like that at the finish because you've got less guys. And the wind at the end wasn't actually too difficult; the most difficult part of the day was getting to the climb in a good position because obviously a lot of guys were still there. Yeah, so it's another step closer to Paris.
“After the climb it was a lot easier because there weren't as many riders in our group but it was a day when you really couldn't take your eye off the ball and you had to keep concentrating.
“I had asked what the situation was with Cav and when Sean [Yates] said he wasn't coming back, all our attention turned to Edvald and trying to help him out. It was a good stage.
“Tomorrow, on paper, shouldn't be a day when things get out of hand. But I think it's a day for the breakaway again and we'll just marshal everything on the last climb but it's a long way to the finish after that.”
Michael Morkov of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, today's combativity prize winner:
“From the moment I went alone [with 64km to go], I was going full gas! I gave it everything I could and I was digging really deep. Of course, when I hit the climb I was in trouble but I tried to fight over it and at least stay with the front group... unfortunately I just missed by a few seconds.
“I was riding with a lot of emotions because today is, in fact, five years since my dad died. He started me in cycling – he gave me the inspiration – and I really wanted to give to my family know that I'm now in the best league. I'm in the Tour de France now and I know he would be proud. I was really fighting hard for the win today.
“People who do sport know that, if you have special feelings – if you really want to perform something special – you can dig deep and get some real power out of your legs. I did that today and I felt really good when I was out there alone.
“I was digging so deep on the approach to the climb and I did whatever I could to gain time; when I hit the hill I just exploded and I tried to fight over it and unfortunately it was not enough.”
Tour de France Stage 20 result 1 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 04h 57' 59'' 2 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE All at same time 3 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 4 HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 5 IMPEY Daryl ORICA GREENEDGE 6 SIMON Julien SAUR-SOJASUN 7 MARCATO Marco VACANSOLEIL-DCM 8 GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM 9 VELITS Peter OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 10 HONDO Danilo LAMPRE - ISD 11 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 12 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 13 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM 14 DE WEERT Kevin OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 15 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 16 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM 17 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 18 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 19 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE 20 USAVAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM Last man home on Stage 13 163 KERN Christophe TEAM EUROPCAR 05h 12' 11'' General Classification after Stage 13 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 59h 32' 32'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 05'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 23'' 4 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 03' 19'' 5 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 04' 48'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 06' 15'' 7 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 06' 57'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 07' 30'' 9 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 08' 31'' 10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 08' 51'' Points Classification after Stage 13 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 296 pts 2 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 232 pts 3 GOSS Matthew ORICA GREENEDGE 203 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 129 pts 5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 125 pts Mountains Classification after Stage 13 1 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 66 pts 2 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 55 pts 3 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 39 pts 4 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM 37 pts 5 SCARPONI Michele LAMPRE - ISD 33 pts Best Young Rider's Classification after Stage 13 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 59h 39' 29'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 54'' 3 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 41' 59'' 4 VALLS FERRI Rafael VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 49' 40'' 5 KRUIJSWIJK Steven RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 54' 59''
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.