Tour de France 2019
Britain’s Simon Yates produced a technically perfect finish after a day in the breakaway in the Pyrenees to win Stage 12 of the Tour de France in a three-up sprint to complete a Grand Tour grand slam.
Yates proved the strongest of a leading trio to taste a maiden Tour triumph in Bagneres-de-Bigorre ahead of Spaniard Pello Bilbao and Austria’s Gregor Muhlberger.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Yates timed his sprint to perfection, darting clear of Astana’s Bilbao and Muhlberger of Bora-Hansgrohe ahead of the final bend before holding on for victory in the 209.5km stage from Toulouse.
Yates’s victory means the 26-year-old becomes the 98th rider in history to win stages in all three of cycling’s Grand Tours. The Vuelta champion joins the elite list of 20 active riders in the peloton who have achieved such a career milestone – and follows Italy’s Elia Viviani and Australian Caleb Ewan to do so in the 106th edition of the Tour.
It was a second victory for Yates’s Mitchelton-Scott team following South African Daryl Impey’s triumph in Stage 9 on Bastille Day.
“I’ve been saving energy all the way here to the mountains and it was my first chance to try something,” said Yates, who entered the stage over an hour down in the general classification.
“I’d usually be helping [brother] Adam back in the peloton but I had my chance and I took it with both hands. I wasn’t confident against them [Bilbao and Muhlberger], but my director told me I needed to be on the front going into the last corners.”
“My main priority here is to help Adam but today was a chance to go up the road, so we’ll see what happens. We’re having a fantastic Tour so long may it continue.”
The leading trio emerged from a huge group of 40 riders which was gradually whittled down over the two major tests of the day, the Col de Peyresourde and the Hourquette d’Ancizan.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was part of the break and picked up maximum points at the intermediate sprint to consolidate his lead in the green jersey battle.
Belgium’s Tim Wellens then took over the slack to extend his own lead in the polka dot jersey competition by cresting the Cat.1 Peyresourde in pole position.
But when push came to shove it was Yates, Bilbao and Muhlberger who proved the strongest from the classy break, with the peloton eventually led home by Team Ineos almost 10 minutes in arrears.
After a day of ceasefire among the GC favourites ahead of Friday’s decisive time trial in Pau, Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) retains the yellow jersey by 1’12” over defending champion Geraint Thomas of Ineos.
It took 40 kilometres of fast and frenetic racing before the day’s break formed, with the green jersey of Peter Sagan particularly active in early proceedings – the Slovakian clearly motivated by the intermediate sprint points ahead of the day’s two major climbs in a bid to consolidate his lead in the green jersey standings.
When the break did finally form, it was quite some beast: a 40-strong assortment of sprinters, climbers and wily opportunist who were finally granted leave by the peloton after Team Ineos came to the front to cease hostilities with around 170km remaining.
Bolstered by three Bora-Hansgrohe teammates, Sagan was joined by fellow sprinters Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida), Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) in the move.
Climbers Matthias Fränk (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Pello Bilbao (Astana), Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) were involved, while Belgium’s Tim Wellens looked to consolidate his lead in the polka dot jersey standings alongside his Lotto Soudal teammate Tiesj Benoot.
There was also a place in the move for Stage 6 winner Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and fellow breakaway specialists Tony Gallopin (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Simon Clarke (EF Education First), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Michael Valgren (both Dimension Data).
In fact, the only teams to miss out on the move were the Ineos team of Thomas and Bernal, Pinot’s Groupama-FDJ and Katusha-Alpecin – for whom Germany’s Mads Wurtz Schmidt tried, but failed, to bridge over – as the gap quickly stretched to three and a half minutes.
On the front of the race, Slovakian showman Sagan was in party mood, riding clear on a slight rise to pull off a “tail-whip” trick in front of applauding fans.
It was something of a break-de-luxe what with 12 of the 40 riders having previously won stages on the Tour, and a further five having finished runner-up.
Wellens stuck to the plot on the first climb of the day, the gentle Cat.4 Cote de Montoulieu-Saint-Bernard, where he edged clear to add a single KOM point to his tally.
Sagan, too, kept to his side of the bargain when edging Colbrelli and Kristoff in the intermediate sprint at Bagneres-de-Luchon at the foot of the day’s first major test.
Italian Colbrelli hit the start of the Col de Peyresourde with a small gap alongside veteran Norwegian Kristoff, although both riders soon faded after Frenchman Calmejane rode clear of the break.
Calmejane, a stage winner at Station des Rousses in his debut Tour in 2017, rode most of the first category climb alone in the lead but was just pipped to the summit by Wellens after the Belgian danced clear with Serge Pauwels (CCC Team) to extend his polka dot jersey lead.
On the descent, Australian Clarke powered clear of his fellow escapees on his 33rd birthday. But there was to be no present for the EF Education First rider, who was quickly reeled in on the final climb, the Cat.1 Hourquette d’Ancizan.
Hitting the climb, the break had already long-lost Sagan and a handful of the other more sprint-minded members, while the peloton plodded along over six minutes in arrears.
With Mitchelton-Scott’s Trentin riding clear to pass Clarke and pave the way for Yates, his British teammate rode clear of a small chase group with Austria’s Muhlberger. Bilbao, a double stage winner in May’s Giro, almost bridged over before the summit, which Yates crested in pole position.
Bilbao caught the leaders on a small uphill rise which broke up the descent and the trio had well over a minute entering the final 10km of the stage.
None of the leaders had ever tasted success on the Tour before, with Bilbao making his first appearance and Yates needing a win to complete that clean sweep. Muhlberger, who pushed Alaphilippe all the way in a two-up sprint in Stage 6 of the Dauphine, was something of a dark horse – although, in the end, his inexperience shone through.
Bilbao looked in control entering the final kilometre, but Yates was biding his time at the back of the trio, ready to launch his sprint ahead of the two corners ahead of the home straight. The tactic was spot on and delivered Yates to the line for an historic victory.
Belgium’s Benoot led the a 14-man chase group home to win the sprint for fourth at 1’28” before the peloton was brought home by the Ineos train at 9’35”.
A rotten day for the Bahrain Merida team saw the 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali finish in the gruppetto almost 19 minutes in arrears while world time trial champion Rohan Dennis withdrew in mysterious circumstances in the feed zone on the eve of the day where he was meant to shine.
The slightly rolling 27.2km individual time trial in Pau tomorrow will suit Team Ineos duo Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal to a tee and will pile the pressure on Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe as he seeks to hold on for a ninth day in yellow on the day the Tour celebrated the 100th anniversary of the maillot jaune.