17 July, 2014
Stage 12 : Bourg-en-Bresse - Saint-Étienne, 183km
Kristoff steps up to squeeze out Sagan
When Andre Greipel crashed after a tangle with Sylvain Chavanel with 3.3km to go Alexander Kristoff realised his best chance of a stage win had come at last. The winner of the 2014 Milan-San Remo the Norwegian held off Peter Sagan in a cut-down bunch sprint.
Kristoff, "It’s a great feeling. I’ve been dreaming about this day since I was a child. I’ve had some second places this year and also last year, but to finally achieve a first is fantastic. My teammate Luca did a great job keeping me in the front and then at the end I also had Porsev but we lost each other in the last corners so I was sitting on (Matteo) Trentin for the last 500 meters. I was waiting and waiting but then I saw (John) Degenkolb go and knew I had to go also. I was so happy when I saw no one could pass me. We will have some champagne tonight but tomorrow is a hard stage so we won’t have too much of a party,"
At the initiative of the Dutch champion Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp), a group of five riders made the move ten kilometres into the racing. Along with Langeveld, the group included Gregory Rast (Trek), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), David De La Cruz (NetApp-Endura) and Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Séché Environnement).
Astana and Giant-Shimano were prompt in taking up positions on the front of the peloton in order to keep the race together behind the leading quintet. As they cruised through Beaujolais, with vineyards and castles looking their best under hot and sunny conditions, they pulled out a maximum lead of 4.50 at Fleurie, km 43. After 50km of racing, Giant-Shimano’s Chinese rider – and lanterne rouge – Ji Cheng seized the reins of the peloton. He was faithful to his – now famous – nickname: “breakaway killer”.
Heavy fall takes De La Cruz out
At km 90, De La Cruz crashed heavily on a bend in Le Bois-d’Oingt. The Catalan rider was experiencing his first Tour de France and he was keen to challenge compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez in the King of the Mountains competition but instead was forced to quit the Tour with a broken collarbone. Langeveld went down as well but managed to regain contact.
At km 95, as everyone slowed down, the difference between Clarke, De La Cruz, Vachon and Langeveld at the front had maintained nearly five minutes over the peloton. As the race reached its half way point the race, Europcar came to the front of the bunch to help Giant-Shimano. Under their efforts the time gap was reduced to 2.15 with 50km to go. The long climb to col des Brosses prevented Vachon and Rast from following the two strongest riders of the front group: Clarke and Langeveld. The two former team-mates at Orica-GreenEdge united their efforts until the Australian rode away solo with 26km to go while Perrig Quémeneur and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) had gone clear off the peloton.
Cannondale leads out, Kristoff concludes
After the last climb on the route, Quémeneur and Gautier reinforced Clarke at the front with 20km to go. Gautier and Clarke surrendered 5km away from the finishing line. It was bunched up before entering Saint-Etienne. Cannondale had kept all their strength for the finish this time but it was still not enough for Peter Sagan to win a bunch sprint as Alexander Kristoff, the only Norwegian in the race, dominated the sprint from far out. The 27 year old from Stavanger put an end to three years of a Norwegian draught at the Tour since Edvald Boasson Hagen won stage 17 to Pinerolo in 2011.
With the sprint finish there was no change on the general classification and Vicenzo Nibali (Astana) still holds the race lead by 2.23 to Richie Porte (Sky) and 2.47 to Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
Team Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez continues to ride in the polka dot jersey as the best climber and will look to extend his lead in the upcoming Alp stages on Friday and Saturday.
Stage 13 comes on Friday and brings the first of two days in the Alps and the high mountains. The 197.5km stage begins in Saint-Étienne and ends with the HC climb Chamrousse capping off the day.