Tour de France 2017
Defending champion Froome was reduced to zig-zagging up the double-digit airstrip finale as his rivals threw down the hammer at the conclusion of a 214.5km stage from Pau from which Team Sky had sucked all the life – until the race blew apart inside the final two-hundred metres.
Frenchman Bardet of Ag2R-La Mondiale won the punchy uphill sprint to secure a third stage win for the host nation ahead of resurgent Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac).
But the coup of the day came from Astana’s Italian national champion Aru, who danced his way to third place alongside Uran and just two seconds behind Bardet. With Froome toiling home 22 seconds down in seventh place, Aru – winner of Stage 5 at La Planche des Belles Filles – overturned his 18-second deficit to move four seconds ahead of Sky’s triple Tour champion.
Bardet’s third career triumph on the Tour sees the 26-year-old stay in third place in the general classification and move within 25 seconds of the new race leader, Aru.
Ireland’s Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) showed no signs of his horror crash on Sunday to finish 13 seconds down in sixth place. Martin moves up to fifth in the GC at the expense of Aru’s Astana team-mate Jakob Fuglsang, who struggled one day after fracturing bones in both his elbow and wrist following a crash in the feed zone yesterday.
The dramatic collapse of Froome on the innovative finale was felt all the more keenly in the light of the red-carpet treatment afforded to the 32-year-old by his Sky team-mates.
As the Tour approached the Pyrenees in foul rainy weather, Sky gradually whittled down the pack while reeling in a 12-man break that formed after a frenetic opening half-hour of racing.
Britain’s Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) was the last man standing from the break after riding away from Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Cyril Gautier (Ag2R-La Mondiale) on the HC climb of the Port de Bales – the fourth of seven categorised climbs in the tough opening stage of a Pyrenean double-header.
Cummings held a gap of two minutes over the summit of the climb – and was given a lifeline when Froome and Aru overcooked a bend at the start of the penultimate climb and were forced into a grass verge.
But once things settled on the Col de Peyresourde, the natural order was quickly restored. Given the armchair treatment from team-mates Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa, Froome’s status as patron of the peloton was never more apparent. And this was without the absent Geraint Thomas – the Welshman who crashed out on Sunday alongside Australia’s Richie Porte (BMC).
Cummings was caught with 8km remaining but not before Movistar’s Nairo Quintana – twice runner-up to Froome in the Tour – was distanced by the Sky-led pack.
Shortly after Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) was dropped, Nieve and Landa led the leaders over the summit of the Peyresourde ahead of a quick descent to the final climb to Peyragudes. Having neutralised an attack from George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) in the final kilometre, the Spanish duo dropped Froome off to the foot of the final ramp of the altiport.
Martin put in the first dig but it was Aru and Bardet who caused the damage as the favourites grappled with a gradient in excess of 20 per cent.
With Froome falling back, Bardet surged past Aru to take a deserved win ahead of Uran and the Italian. Landa, South African Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) and Martin all finished before Froome toiled home ahead of Bennett and compatriot Simon Yates of Orica-Scott. Quintana and Contador both conceded more than two minutes.
Frenchman Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) extended his lead in the polka dot jersey competition after counter-attacking the break to add another 10 points to his tally over the Col de Peyresourde. Barguil’s closest challenger has emerged to be the Belgian De Gendt, who moved to within 38 points of his rival after featuring prominently in the day’s break alongside Cummings.
Also present in that 12-man break were the two main protagonists in the green jersey competition, with Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) narrowly beating Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) in the intermediate sprint. The Australian nevertheless still trails the German by 352 points to 222 points.
Yates retained the white jersey for best young rider but saw his advantage over Meintjes cut to 2:38 after the South African rode clear of him – and Froome – on the final sting in the stage’s tail.
The Tour continues tomorrow with a Bastille Day novelty: a short but sharp 101km Stage 13 that features three steep climbs ahead of a downhill run into Foix.
Stage 12 results
1. Romain Bardet (France / AG2R La Mondiale) 5:49:38” 2. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia / Cannondale-Drapac) +2” 3. Fabio Aru (Italy / Astana Pro Team) 4. Mikel Landa (Spain / Team Sky) +5” 5. Louis Meintjes (South Africa / UAE Team Emirates) +7” 6. Daniel Martin (Ireland / Quick-Step Floors) +13” 7. Chris Froome (Britain / Team Sky) +22” 8. George Bennett (New Zealand / LottoNL-Jumbo) +27” 9. Simon Yates (Britain / Orica-Scott) 10. Mikel Nieve (Spain / Team Sky) +1:28”
1. Fabio Aru (Italy / Astana Pro Team) 52:51:49” 2. Chris Froome (Britain / Team Sky) +6” 3. Romain Bardet (France / AG2R La Mondiale) +25” 4. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia / Cannondale-Drapac) +35” 5. Daniel Martin (Ireland / Quick-Step Floors) +1:41” 6. Simon Yates (Britain / Orica-Scott) +2:13” 7. Mikel Landa (Spain / Team Sky) +2:55” 8. Nairo Quintana (Colombia / Movistar Team) +4:01” 9. George Bennett (New Zealand / LottoNL-Jumbo) +4:04” 10. Louis Meintjes (South Africa / UAE Team Emirates) +4:51”