Looking at the course profile today, it had SPRINTER STAGE stamped in glaring red ink. There was a short category-4 climb, the Côte de Crotz, at 77kms and a wee bump again inside the last ten clicks, but it shouldn’t have been too problematic for the fastmen. But, you know, things don’t always go to plan!
Otherwise it’s a pretty steady run south-east to the heart of the country. There’s a neutral zone so long, it could practically have been run as a time trial, and when the flag drops …
… six are away and building a lead. There’s good horsepower, and a sound mix of teams are represented. Cofidis have breakaway specialist Luis Angel Mate in there, trying to take the squad’s first Tour stage since 2008.
Polish strongman Przeyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) is more used to towing his leaders through the Giro but he gets a chance today. Alongside are Ruben Perez (Euskaltel); Cyril Lemoine of Sojasun in an escape again; Kris Boeckmans of Vacansoleil-DCM; and Europcar’s Yohann Gène.
However, there ain’t many chances for the sprinters left – after today, it’s basically the last stage in Paris, so Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Lotto-Belisol, et al., aren’t giving them too much room. The gap barely went outside three-and-a-half minutes.
The peloton ramped the speed up and the wind starts to howl in. Omega Pharma-QuickStep fancied their chances of putting the pressure on as the wind hits. The field splinters and we’ve got a big group tailed off. Kittel is dropped so Cavendish and his boys slam the accelerator.
The break is toasted before the day’s single classified climb and the polka-dot jersey (shorts, bike, gloves, probably tattooed skin by now) of Pierre Rolland jumps away for the single point available.
Valverde flats approaching the feed zone! He’s got four team-mates with him: two jump away to get up to speed, one stays to pace him up to the duo, the fourth hands over his wheel then stops for a ‘natural break’. It’s a bit of panic for Movistar – Valverde does his own wheel swap and they take off.
The front group is flying and it looks like a four-man team pursuit squad for Movistar trying to make up the deficit – the field is not in sight as they flee through narrow streets of Levroux. Team Belkin are smashing it up front with Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
Further back, behind Kittel’s group, is a group with Voeckler and most of Euskaltel. Valverde’s boys are in disarray and the rest of his squad are dropping back one-by-one to help. Suddenly, a regulation stage is turning into a firefight! They’re dangling about 12 seconds back, desperate times.
Ruben Plaza blows up spectacularly – not looking good for Valverde. The Kittel group is closing up to them … but not the front of the field. Now Movistar and Argos-Shimano are dragging the chase in mutual desperation. 70kms to race, and the Valverde deficit balloons to 1’14”.
Saint-Aoustrille is the sprint venue today: Greipel gets the best out of Cannondale’s lead-out and edges Cavendish and Sagan in the latest skirmish in the green jersey battle. 58kms to go, and the road is pretty much bullet straight but rolls like breakers on the Pacific coast. The front wave – still crested Belkin green and OPQS blue – disappears into a trough of road and then sweeps up the next lospe. Behind … and aching chasm of nothingness as far as the Valverde/Argos-Shimano/Orica-GreenEdge chase is concerned.
52kms to go and the long slog by Kittel’s troops and Valverde’s boys is working – the gap is a manageable 48 seconds. Pierre Rolland has a mechanical now, and his boys just wait to slot into the Valverde chase.
The Kittel group has been distanced by half-a-minute and the German Adonis looks like he’s blowing a gasket. (Tommy Voeckler’s group is five minutes adrift and counting.)
OPQS & Belkin simply tore the race apart today.
The crosswind is tasty as it rips across wheat brown fields; there’s not much in the way of hedgerows or trees to shelter the riders. This is a hard, hard stage. Now the front group is in shreds, the chase is in shreds, and it’s becoming harder to keep a track of where everyone is!
42kms to race, Valverde looks across at Marcel Kittel and shakes his head. A gesture of frustration: he’s falling down the classification tonight. Up front, Belkin and OPQS are treating this like a wind-smashed spring classic! The gap has opened up again to two minutes with 39 clicks to go. Now Team Saxo-Tinkoff add more coal to the fire at the front of the field as Steegmans (OPQS) drops away.
It looks as if the angels emptied their toybox out … riders and groups scattered like discarded playthings all over the countryside. 31kms to go: Valverde is now 2’45” back!
Now Saxo-Tinkoff spring a trap! They jump and pull a group of Belkins with them. In the background, Froome (Sky), the yellow jersey is scrambling frantically to close it down but he only has three team-mates with him. What should have been one of the ‘calmest’ stages of this 100th Tour is providing fireworks, 48 hours before Bastille Day!
It’s Bennati, Roche, Tossatto, Kreuziger and Rogers with Contador, along with Fuglsang (Astana), Sagan and Bodnar (Cannondale), Mollema and Ten Dam (Belkin), Cavendish, Chavanel and Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Incredible stuff.
This lead group drill it and with nine kilometers to go they’ve got a 48 second lead! Valverde is way, waaaaaaaay behind now, over seven minutes. Froome is isolated now: Siutsou is dropped, Stannard and Thomas on the front but looking in trouble.
In the chase, Ag2r and Katusha are helping Lotto-Belisol, but the gap is stretching out to 55 seconds. Froome is being tracked by Andy Schleck, and a couple of Argos-Shimano riders who survived the earlier crosswind cull.
Just five kilometers to go now and the lead is a minute. Team Saxo-Tinkoff are just thrashing the front of the race. Valverde is losing a further minute a kilometer now, over eight minutes adrift.
The information from the Tour techies is that Contador’s group are doing 54km/h; Froome and co. are doing 51km/h; Valverde’s group have totally given up and are at 40km/h.
Two kilometers to go: Contador’s boys have 67 seconds advantage. Cavendish is right behind Sagan. To the red kite and Terpstra jumps, forcing Bodnar to chase.
Into the finishing straight, Chavanel is absolutely burying himself. When Chava pulls over Sagan has his nose in the wind and realises he’s not got the speed. Cavendish rockets through to win his record-breaking 25th road racing career stage at the Tour de France. And at an average speed of 47.2kph!
The Froome group comes in at 1’09”. With Mont Ventoux and the Alps looming, and with Sky having lost two men , suddenly the overall looks a lot more interesting. Valverde’s group loses 9’55”! Who said flat stages were boring?!
From 2nd overall at the start of the stage to 16th @ 12m10s by the end of the day, Alejandro Valverde was certainly the big loser today.
Tour de France Stage 13, Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond, 173kms
1 Mark Cavendish (IoM) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 3hrs 40’08”
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Team Belkin
4 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
5 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
7 Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Team Belkin all same time
9 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep + 6”
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff + 9”
Tour de France Overall After Stage 13
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 51hrs 00’ 30”
2 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Team Belkin + 2’28”
3 Alberto Contador (Spa) Team Saxo-Tinkoff + 2’ 45”
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff + 2’ 48”
5 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Team Belkin + 3’ 01”
6 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana + 4’39”
7 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep + 4’ 44”
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team + 5’ 18”
9 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale + 5’ 39”
10 Dan Martin (Ire) Garmin-Sharp + 5’ 52”