Saint-Étienne: an iconic French soccer club who won shedloads in the ’60s and ’70s and are now hauling themselves back to success by their bootlaces. A club and a name so cool one of the ultimate British indie bands took it for themselves. And how many of us who knew the band weren’t at least a little bit in love with Sarah Cracknell back in the day?
Today, Saint-Étienne has a more important focus – host town of stage 13 of the Tour de France, as we roll towards the first summit finish in the Alps. Chamrousse is a kick in the teeth after the early insult of the Col de la Croix de Montvieux topping out at 812 meters, and the Col de Palaquit, a first-category slog to 1154 meters.
With the usual flurry of exhausting attacks and counters, the break of the day eventually gels: 2013 TDF stage winner and maillot jaune Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), this year’s stage eight victor Blel Kadri from AG2R, Rudy Molard (Cofidis, Solutions Credits), NetApp-Endura’s Bartosz Huzarski, Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche), Giro d’Italia stage winner Gio Visconti (Movistar), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Lampre-Merida’s Kristjan Durasek and classics strongman Daniel Oss for BMC.
Visconti is first over the third-category Col de la Croix de Montvieux, and the traditional tumbles see Jurgen van den Broeck and Marcel Kittel on the floor.
It’s Team Katusha who have their shoulders to the wheel to chase the break down – Joaquim Rodriguez is in the polka dots and the Russians want to minimize any damage to his lead today while maybe setting the little fella up for a crack at the stage win in Chamrousse.
Onto the Col de Palaquit and the break starts to eat itself, with attacks left, right and center. A rapidly dwindling peloton starts to close in. Kadri, De Marchi, Molard and Bakelandts seem to form a four-man performance troupe with rotating membership – first one guy in trouble, then the next.
The Italian finally forges on alone and stretches his lead as he summits the Palaquit, but Bakelandts is chasing.
Inside 50 kilometers to race and De Marchi has over three minutes on the yellow jersey mob – but surely that’s not going to be even close to enough to stay clear?
De Marchi continues on his own, but it’s a hiding to nothing. The catch is inevitable as the final slog to Chamrousse looms. All the main favorites bar one seem to be with the Nibali group, but the yellow jersey has only one team-mate with him.
Kwiatkowski is dropped and in big trouble, then Rodriguez has a leg lock. Dani Navarro is out and Arthur Vichot, too – it’s hot, hard and heavy out there.
A bad day for Sky and Richie Porte saw him drop out of contention
Only the Estonian Tanel Kangert is with Nibali, but after a huge input from Movistar’s John Gadret, the main group is in tatters. Richie Porte is in big trouble and Mikel Nieve has to drop back to help him.
FDJ hit the front with 11.5kms left as Chris Horner tries to help a flagging Rui Costa.
A good ride from BMC’s Tejay van Garderen moves him up to 5th overall
There are big gains to be made on the overall classification, if only someone is strong enough to take advantage. The Alps look imperious in the afternoon sun – the challengers to Nibali look pretty damn insignificant.
Leo Konig jumps for NetApp and the main riders are swinging across the road. Looking at each other. Can anyone try and land a blow on Nibali?
With 6.8kms left Nibali jumps … is it a bit early? Pinot tries to drag Valverde over to him. But he can’t do it. Nibali whooshes over to Konig and Majka. Behind them, Bardet is trying to regain the minute has lost to Nibali.
Vincenzo Nibali quickly crossed to Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) and then rode his own race
Valverde absolutely refuses to help Pinot in the first chase group … and then tries to jump him. Pinot is not impressed. Meanwhile, in his own private hell, Richie Porte is disappearing and Team Sky’s plan B is going badly wrong.
Four kilometers for Nibali, Konig and Majka now, and Pinot tows Valverde through 22 seconds behind. A little further down the climb, Van Garderen and Bardet are working nicely but not making any real progress.
Just over three clicks to go and Nibali just cruises away – it’s not an attack, he just suffocates his companions and he’s all alone in yellow glory. Belkin’s Ten Dam is picked up by Van Garderen and Bardet as they slowly chip away at the gap to Valverde and Pinot – it’s a constantly changing situation.
Valverde and Pinot; a less than happy duo
Pinot turns round and scowls at Valverde who is more than happy to simply follow the young Frenchman. They’ve conceded over 45 seconds to Nibali in less than a kilometer and a half. But Konig and Majka haven’t given this up, and the NetApp leader is trying to close on the Italian champion-in-waiting.
Nibali is untouchable though and rolls home to take his third stage win in this Tour and cement his grip on the yellow jersey. Majka edges Konig for second.
Of the other contenders, Valverde moves into second overall, and the young French duo Bardet and Pinot are third and fourth, within striking distance.
Nibali looked magnificent, but Astana had their wobbles, with Scarponi and Kangert dropped, and the Estonian only getting back on when Fuglsang crashed on a descent.
A relieved and victorious Vincenzo Nibali
Porte really suffered in the heat, he was sick on a blisteringly hot near 40 Celsius day in the valleys. Who will recover better for tomorrow? The Tour is in a very interesting place right now! Keep it Pez.
Tour de France Stage 13 Result:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 5:12:29
2. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo at 0:10
3. Leopold Konig (Cze) Netapp-Endura at 0:11
4. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 0:50
5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 0:53
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 1:23
7. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 1:36
9. Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 2:09
10. Frank Schleck (Lux) Trek.
Tour de France Overall After Stage 13:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 56:44:03
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 3:37
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:24
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 4:40
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 5:19
6. Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 6:06
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at 6:17
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol at 6:27
9. Leopold Konig (Cze) Netapp-Endura at 8:36
10. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin at 9:18.