Simon Yates has won stage 12 of the Tour de France. The Brit took the win ahead of Pello Bilbao and Gregor Mühlberger after the breakaway succeeded in holding off the bunch. Overall there was no change in the top of the standings with Julian Alaphilippe continuing to lead.
The return to the the mountains for the first time proper since stage 6 saw the riders take on 209.5km from Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The climbs of the Col d Peyresourde and Horquette d’Ancizan featured en route to the finish, but it was largely expected that not a great deal of change would take place overall.
Surprisingly it took around 40km before a breakaway succeeded in establishing itself with a huge group of 42 riders going clear. The allure of a potential breakaway win saw attack after attack keep coming from the peloton with Peter Sagan of BORA-Hansgrohe, Greg Van Avermaet of CCC Team, Tim Wellens and Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Nicolas Roche of Team Sunweb all trying and failing to go clear before the break were finally given the blessing of Team Ineos who brought the crazed first hour of racing to an end by sitting up at the front of the peloton.
What was left, then, was a huge group at the front of the race. Interestingly enough, however, it was Van Avermaet who was best placed overall at 14.25mins back; so no threats were present in the move. Nicolas Roche, Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, Peter Sagan and teammates Gregor Mühlberger, Maximilian Schachmann and Daniel Oss, Matteo Trentin and Simon Yates of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Mathias Frank of AG2R La Mondiale, Jasper Stuyven and Fabio Felline of Trek-Segafredo, Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data, Dylan Teuns and Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain Merida, Simon Clarke of EF Education First, Lilian Calmejane of Total Direct Energie and more were all present in the move.
Also present in the breakaway for the first time was EF Education First’s Tom Scully. It had been a quiet Tour de France for Scully so far, but this was the Kiwi’s first opportunity to fly.
Deceuninck-Quick Step – unlike previous stages where they would share the workload with Lotto Soudal and Jumbo-Visma – arrived en masse at the front of the peloton to control the time gaps. Team Ineos were on their wheels, but the mission for the wolf pack was clearly defence of Julian Alaphilippe’s maillot jaune.
There were a couple of points of interest present throughout the day. Firstly, the KOM points on offer with a fourth category climb and two first category climbs present. Then the intermediate sprint with 80km to go. Tim Wellens in polka dot and Peter Sagan in green both had opportunities to seriously extend their overall advantages as the race continued onwards and the break continued to build up their lead to over 4.15mins as they reached 115km to go.
On the approach to the intermediate sprint the time gap crept up to 5 minutes and the pace crept up in the break as the sprint neared. Daniel Oss put in a big lead out, first to catch Roger Kluge of Lotto Soudal, and then to line up Sagan for maximum points. Sagan was not to be caught by Sonny Colbrelli, neither Alexander Kristoff or Japers Stuyven and Sagan reached ‘his finish line’ comfortably in first place.
Shortly after the sprint the climb of the Peyresourde kicked off. Sonny Colbrelli and Alexander Kristoff continued pressing on to the foot of the climb, but it was more an awareness that their days were numbered at the front of the race. Peter Sagan sat up and gradually allowed himself to be caught as did the likes of Roger Kluge. Eventually Lilian Calmejane made his way to the front of the race, and had a solo lead over the rest of the break. Michael Matthews continued to sit in the breakaway and he was happy to push on at the front of the break as Calmejane held a 30 second lead.
Heading towards the top of the climb it looked like Calmejane might just make it to the top of the climb, but Wellens closed rapidly on the lone leader with Serge Pauwels of CCC Team in tow; catching and passing the Frenchman at the top to snatch the points. From here Simon Clarke took the initiative, going on the attack on the long descent towards the next climb that began with 54.5km to go.
Meanwhile back in the peloton there was not a great deal of action from the GC contenders, with Astana, Team Ineos and Deceuninck-Quick Step all towards the front but not attacking one another.
At the bottom of the Peyresourde Simon Clarke was 1.09mins ahead of lone chaser Matteo Trentin, with the rest of the break about 30 seconds further back, between the European champion and the peloton that was 6.11mins adrift. As the bunch hit the lower slopes of the climb Ineos took control of matters, but so too did Simon Yates up ahead. Trentin caught Clarke with 35km to go and quickly dropped the Australian as Yates eventually bridged across to his teammate and then went on the offensive along with Gregor Mühlberger. Steadily Pello Bilbao made his way across to the duo and from there the stage would be decided. Bilbao wasn’t quite able to match the leaders on the climb though, instead keeping them just within his sights before launching on the downhill to catch the leaders.
With 29km to go, and with the leading trio and next chase group over the climb, the main field were 7.38mins in arrears. That lead grew out to in excess of 8 minutes with 20km to go and would continue to stretch, but there was little activity from the peloton in terms of attacks, with GC contenders choosing to save themselves for tomorrow’s time trial.
The leading trio continued on together through the final kilometres quite amicably. The three riders appeared happy to work together although picking a winner in the sprint wasn’t easy. Mühlberger appeared to have the advantage, but Bilbao and Yates couldn’t be ruled out. With 2km to go Yates began to play cat-and-mouse with the rest, although he was forced to take another couple of brief turns before the final kilometre.
Under 1km to go Bilbao had to lead and from here it was almost track sprint-like. Bilbao weaved around the road, but Mühlberger made his way slowly to the front with 500m to go. Yates sat on Bilbao’s wheel and from there launched through to lead out the sprint in the final corner. It looked like he could be swamped in the sprint, but the Brit picked his line perfectly and took the win ahead of Bilbao with Mühlberger third.
Behind the trio Tiesj Benoot attacked and just managed to hold on to take fourth place ahead of Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline and Yates’ teammate Matteo Trentin; 1.28mins behind Yates.
The peloton, featuring all the main contenders and George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma, crossed the line 9.35mins back. Tom Scully finished in the next big group on the road alongside fellow breakaway companions Daniel Oss, Alexander Kristoff and Sonny Colbrelli.