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Stage 12 of the 2012 Tour de France was the longest on the Tour thus far as the peloton left the Alps in the latter half of the stage. Although there are two nasty Cat.1 climbs early on, the 126km open expanse of land to follow may ensure that no individual is likely to attack early on as there is a very long way home to make the break stick. There were numerous withdrawals on Stage 11 which needs to be discussed today; Fabian Cancellara of course pulling out pre stage, joined by Lieuwe Westra (NED, Vacansoleil-DCM), Mark Renshaw (AUS, Rabobank), Bauke Mollema (NED, Rabobank), Rob Rujigh (NED, Vacansoleil-DCM), Gustav Larsson (SWE, Vacansoleil-DCM) with Alessandro Petacchi (ITA, Lampre) and Yuriy Krivtsov (UKR, Lampre) finishing outside the time limit and thus exiting the Tour. Robert Gesink (NED, Rabobank) didn’t start the stage today. As soon as the peloton had rolled through the neutral zone riders raced hard, with several breakaway attempts made. Sylvain Chavanel tried to escape but couldn’t get clear although about 19 finally escaped. The Col du Cocheron was upon us, and several counter attacks formed, although Team Sky and the other leading outfits clearly didn’t want too large a group to form at the front.
With the breakaway riders varying greatly, it was hard to pin down exactly who was involved at any one point, although Robert Kieserlovski (CRO, Astana) took 10 points over the top of the first summit. The first nasty incident occurred as David Moncoutie (FRA, Cofidis) crashed on the descent, seemingly breaking his collar bone as he lay in some agony. Edvald Boasson-Hagen led the leaders over the top of the climb, 1’20’’ behind the now 12 escapees who were composed of Yaroslav Popovych (UKR, RadioShack-Nissan), Cyril Gautier (FRA, Europcar), David Millar (GBR, Garmin-Sharp), Kristjan Koren (SLO, Liquigas-Cannondale), Maxime Bouet (FRA, Ag2r), Nicki Sorensen (DEN, Saxobank), Robert Kieserlovski (CRO, Astana), Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA, Ag2r), Nicolas Edet (FRA, Cofidis), Vladimir Gusev (RUS, Katusha), Eduard Vorganov (RUS, Katusha) and Egoi Martinez (SPA, Euskaltel). Near the base of the second climb of the day, Tom Veelers (NED, Argos-Shimano) also pulled out of the race, riders dropping out like flies. Chris Horner (USA, RadioShack-Nissan), Jeremy Roy (FRA, FDJ) and Christophe Kern (FRA, Europcar) tried to attack from there, with Jens Voigt (GER, RadioShack) joining them. The peloton closed up on the second climb with Bouet and Gusev dropping back from the leading group. Sorensen also dropped off as both Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland, struggling from their exertions yesterday dropped away from the peloton near the top of the second climb. As the bunch crossed the summit, Bradley Wiggins sprang forward to ensure that nobody could attack him on the descent, a clever move to safeguard against Vincenzo Nibali in particular. Over the top, Peter Sagan attacked along with Rein Taaramae (EST, Cofidis) and a couple of his teammates, perhaps looking to establish a break before the intermediate sprint point as opposed to catching the escapees.
The peloton, spurred on by Orica-Greenedge were having none of it as Sagan was dropped back. Out front, only Millar, Martinez, Kieserlovski, Gautier and Peraud had survived although the peloton were allowing them to remain comfortably clear. The Gruppetto, which included Mark Cavendish, attached itself back on to the peloton before the intermediate sprint. At the intermediate sprint point, David Millar took the maximum 20 points out front while Matt Goss took 6th ahead of Greipel, Van Hummel and Peter Sagan, the Australian closing the gap in the standings further to the strong Slovakian. With about 45km to go, the gap remained at about 12 minutes, the peloton clearly happy to take a day off and led the leading 5 duke it out for the stage win. The maximum gain of the day was 12’50’’ but the peloton upped the speed slightly as the breakaway neared the Cat 3. Cote d’Ardoix climb just 25km before the finish in Annonay. Egoi Martinez looked in a handy position to push himself in to the Top 15 in the overall GC standings having nearly cut his 25’ gap on Wiggins in half. The Cat.3 climb surprisingly passed without any incident at all for the leaders, Robert Kieserlovski once again taking the summit first, claiming 2 points for his King of the Mountains total. With 18km to go, all 5 leaders had been given a gift horse to go and win the stage and each one looked nervous at the prospect. David Millar was by far the most experienced winner with 37 career wins although the other 4 only had 6 between them. However, with 12 tough days of riding behind them, it would be about who had the legs to compete at the end. The peloton made it over the top together with no issue, just less than 11’ down on the breakaway quintet. With 3km to go, the quintet were still ominously staring each other down as Kieserlovski tried and was easily reeled back by Millar.
Jean-Christophe Peraud made the first decisive move, leaping clear with Millar chasing him down to sit in his wheel. Kieserlovski, Martinez and Gautier looked exhausted as Peraud and Millar built a decent lead. It was down to these two in the final kilometre as they wound up. Peraud jumped at 200m but Millar had played it brilliantly and strode across the line with ease to take his 38th career victory and 4th in the Tour overall; the 4th British win in the 2012 Tour so far. Further down the field Michael Rogers was keeping Wiggins safe out front, before Matt Goss and Peter Sagan jumped out front. Goss moved across Sagan briefly before crossing the line in 6th, although Sagan was clearly displeased with what he perceived as an obvious block. The peloton eventually finished 7’53’’ behind stage winner Millar, who scored a poignant British victory on the 45th anniversary of the death of legendary rider Tom Simpson on the climb to the Ventoux. There was no change in the GC standings as all the contenders made it across the line safely in the main bunch. However, the race directors made the decision that Goss had deviated off his line and was relegated to the back of the stage, allowing Sagan to build his lead.
Stage 13 Preview-
Stage 13 takes the peloton to the South coast of France for the very first time- along in Mediterranean. The stage is another fairly long one, 217km in total from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Cap d’Adge. Aside from the beautiful views along the coast, the wind can always be a problem down here, as highlighted in 2009 when the Tour visited the Grand Motte. The course profile is relatively flat for almost the entire distance. However, there is a nasty little 159m Cat.3 climb up the Mont Saint Clair, a mere 23km from the finish. If the pure sprinters can get over this climb in some manner of decent shape and remain with the peloton, we could be well on course for a sprint finish. I have a feeling that Mark Cavendish, who has done a high volume of work to help his teammates over the past few days, may not yet have the energy to participate in a group sprint. That would leave the competition down to Greipel, Goss and possibly Sagan, all of whom will likely be there to compete. Although Goss has not yet won a stage, he is looming over Sagan’s shoulder for the points classification jersey and so Matt Goss is my tip for tomorrow. Greipel may well take it but the Australian is very much still in the race for the point jersey after being relegated at the end of Stage 12.