Today’s Stage 13 of the Tour de France saw Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Belkin and Saxo-Tinkoff provide a masterclass in how to use the wind to their advantage and put rivals into trouble, and each got their reward; in the case of the former, it was Mark Cavendish getting his second stage win in this year’s race, while the latter two now have two riders apiece in the top five, have seen off the challenge of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, and have closed the gap on race leader Chris Froome of Team Sky.
Here’s our analysis and round-up of some of the reaction on a day that barely merited attention when the route of the 100th Tour was announced in Paris last October but may come to be seen as the one that was influential in determining the make-up of the final podium in Paris – and perhaps even, the identity of the winner.
When the plan to use the wind to a team’s advantage works, it produces spectacular results; remember Cavendish’s win at La Grande Motte during the 2009 Tour, on a day the race crossed the Camargue?
Typically, though, it is on coastal stages where the risk of echelons forming is greatest, not on a day such as today when the race was riding through the heart of France; also unusual is that there were two separate occasions when harnessing the wind influenced the final result, and due to teams that were pursuing different agendas.
The initial damage was done by Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team the moment they realised, with 110 kilometres of the 173 kilometre stage from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond still to ride, that crosswinds gave them a chance to distance Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel.
The young German has won three stages of the race so far, and Cavendish, clearly stung by his narrow defeat to Kittel yesterday, had more reason than most to ensure his rival got dropped.
Also decisive for the day’s final result, however, was the Manxman having the racing sense to go with what would be the day’s other decisive move when Saxo-Tinkoff forced a split in the front group with 30 kilometres remaining as they sought, successfully, to put race leader Chris Froome under pressure.
Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Stage 13 winner
When echelons form it's similar to falling through ice: you know you've got, like five seconds to rectify and get in the right position to save yourself or it's finished – it's over.
The group went, [Michal] Kwiatkowski just missed it, he left a little gap and I actually did more watts in the sprint over to the front group than I did at the finish sprint. I just managed to get on as the last man and we were away. It was close but it was nice to do it.
I just had to stay on [Peter] Sagan in the final. We had three of us there and he had two so we could afford to attack in the final and it would mean that his lead-out guy would have to chase.
Niki [Terpstra] attacked in the last kilometre and it was Bodnar with Sagan and he had to chase the move down and that meant that if I just stayed on Sagan, then he'd have to hit out in the headwind finish so he was left on the front a bit too early. He knew I was going to come around him. He was happy to save his legs for another day.
It was me on the podium but it should have been all of Omega Pharma-Quickstep today. They were all just incredible. They rode from kilometre 60 and they rode their hearts out. They rode into the ground.
It was a difficult stage. It was a nervous stage but finally... I'm so excited to win, so happy to win. It's been a difficult few days and it's nice to be on the podium again. It wasn't really a master plan.
We just felt the wind was in the right position so we started to ride a bit harder. We did it more to kind of make the peloton tired and finally it broke and we were racing.
The finish would have suited me if it was a bunch sprint but we actually happy to have a smaller group and it ended up being a two-up sprint between Sagan and myself and I was happy to beat him.
The guys gave it everything. Yesterday they gave everything and I let them down in the final; today they put even more into it, even earlier and I'm so happy we could win. It's really nice.
In last year’s race, when he was with Team Sky, Cavendish’s role in a scenario such as today’s would almost certainly have been to sacrifice his own stage win ambitions and help Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome chase down any moves from rival teams.
Today, Saxo-Tinkoff used the wind to their advantage 30 kilometres out from the finish to distance Froome and ended the day taking back one and a quarter minutes from the race leader.
Moreover, with Alejandro Valverde dropped from the front group due to a mechanical problem, Alberto Contador moves up to third overall, and his team mate Roman Kreuziguer is now in fourth place on GC; the team has specifically targeted the third week of the Tour as it heads towards the Alps, and will be looking to exploit any further weakness on Sky and Froome’s part.
What’s more, the Danish outfit now moves into the lead of the team classification; at least the yellow helmets they will have the honour of sporting tomorrow match their kit.
Saxo-Tinkoff sports director, Fabrizio Guidi, on how the team’s tactics paid off today.
We knew this stage offered the opportunity of attack but it wasn't until the final 30 kilometres, the right moment occurred for us.
The moment where we hoped to be able to keep the pressure to the finish line and our strong team around Alberto managed to gain one minute on Froome on this flat stretch and I'm really proud to have been a part of the today's effort.
It provides us with a boost of morale and now the guys know they can make the difference and there's still one half of the race left.
For that reason, we have to stay calm and focused. There are hard and difficult stages coming up and we have to stay one move ahead of everyone.
Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff, who moves to third overall.
I'm very happy with today's stage. If someone had told me before the start that we were going to gain 1.10 on the leader, I wouldn't have believed it.
The team was simply extraordinary. At first, we remained calm because Alejandro Valverde had a mishap and we decided not to lead but in the end we noticed several riders were in trouble while my team was very strong and we decided to go for it.
Bennati did the first attacking kilometer like a motorcycle and the group shattered into a thousand pieces.
There was a time we were only at 10 seconds, but I have to say 'chapeau' to all my team mates because they have demonstrated the Saxo-Tinkoff team spirit.
However, to be at 3:57 or to 2:45 does not change much in the overall. We are still forced to go on the attack in the Alps.
The Tour is still difficult but not yet finished and a thousand things can happen. For now, we have to rest as tomorrow there's another day.
I'm very happy about my team and for the show we pulled off. It has been immense. We have shown that we all have the same goal in mind, to fight for victory and it sure has been a great day for Saxo-Tinkoff.
Another team with two riders in the top five of the General Classification this evening is Belkin, who have proved one of the surprise packages of the Tour de France to date; Bauke Mollema lies second overall, with Laurens Ten Dam in fifth position.
Once second-place Valverde suffered a mechanical problem with more than 80 kilometres to go, the Dutch outfit, which unveiled the new sponsorship that will ensure its continuation just days before the race started, joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step in pushing the pace along.
With Mollema and Ten Dam also aware enough of the race situation to get into that subsequent move initiated by Saxo-Tinkoff, the day has reaped a handsome dividend for Belkin.
Bauke Mollema of Belkin, now second on GC.
We did really good work. Laurens and I end up in the first group, but without the help of the guys, we couldn't have done that. They did a superb job. They kept us at the front of the peloton all the time and it paid off.When Valverde punctured, we were already up front. At that point, we had planned to make an echelon. Later on, we heard Valverde suffered from bad luck.
The minute we gained on Froome and the other GC riders is a very nice bonus. It already looked good for me, but it's only getting better.
Mollema’s Belkin team mate Laurens Ten Dam, now fifth overall.
In the final I had a feeling that Saxo-Tinkoff was up to something. They hadn't done so much work until then. When they attacked I immediately shouted to Bauke and therefore we were the first to join.
The first kilometre was very hard, but when the peloton broke behind, I knew we were in a good spot. It's great that we gained time on Froome and both gain a spot in the GC. That's also due to our good preparation.
Following today’s events, Team Sky certainly know the race is on. It was inconceivable this morning that on a stage such as today’s, Chris Froome could have one third of his lead on GC wiped out, yet that is exactly what happened.
Crucially, two men who would doubtless have buried themselves to try and bring back the Contador group, Vasil Kiryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen, are out of the race; moreover, the fractured pelvis Geraint Thomas suffered on the opening day, plus fellow Olympic team pursuit champion Peter Kennaugh’s recovery from his crash last Sunday, has also limited Sky’s ability to chase down any moves.
There’s been talk on Twitter this afternoon on whether Sky are missing the presence of Sir Bradley Wiggins. It’s perhaps a two-edged sword; on the one hand, a fully-fit Wiggins would perhaps have been the ideal person to try and help Froome get back across as the kilometres kicked down.
On the other, had Wiggins been confirmed in Sky’s line-up, Froome and the rest of the team would have been under intense scrutiny in the build-up to the race over whether Wiggins would fully support his challenge. Ifs and buts, though, are part and parcel of sport and the pure and simple fact is that, for whatever reason, Wiggins isn’t here.
Two days ago, Froome seemed to have a commanding lead heading towards the denouement of the race, but in the last 24 hours, with Boasson Hagen suffering that fractured shoulder yesterday, then the time he lost today, his position is starting to look a bit more precarious; last Sunday, on the way to Bagneres de Bigorre, he withstood a wave of attacks, particularly from Movistar, despite losing all of his team mates early on.
Can he continue to do so on next week’s stages to Mont Ventoux and that double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez, among others? Froome himself acknowledges that the race is far from over.
Chris Froome of Team Sky, race leader.
I think it was another reminder to us that we have to be on our toes at all times on stages like this. It looked simple on paper but that wasn't the case.
I was feeling quite comfortable but when that split went the first 12 guys made it in there and anything further back than that and it was too late. It was a tough day on the legs but it wasn't easy for anyone out there I hope.
We've got a lumpy stage to come before we get to Mont Ventoux on Sunday so it's going to be an exciting week of racing.
Sky Procycling’s team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford.
I think we expected to be attacked. Everybody knew there were going to be crosswinds out there. Our view with seven riders was to limit any losses.
The lads just got caught out, but credit to Saxo-Tinkoff.We know what Mick Rogers [now with Saxo-Tinkoff, but a member of the Team Sky outfit that helped Wiggins clinch yellow last year] is like – we rode with him on the Tour team last year and he’s a great tactician.
He took the initiative at the right moment and credit to them. It’s proving to be a great race this year.
We have to be acutely aware tactically of positioning and where the guys are at. We need to concentrate all the time. Let’s see what happens when the race goes uphill again. There’s also the second time trial.
There are opportunities to gain time and then there’s opportunities to minimise time loss. At the minute you don’t know which way it’s going. But in many respects I think it’s fantastic for the race. It’s finely balanced and whoever is going to win this race deserves to win it.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.