Stage 13: Tours to St-Amand-Montrond, 173km
This 100th Tour continues to astound and thrill in equal measure. On a seemingly innocuous day containing one fourth-category hill, a combination of crosswinds and aggressive riding by Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Belkin and Saxo-Tinkoff shook up the GC, destroyed the hopes of Alejandro Valverde and recouped much of the gains made by Chris Froome in Wednesday’s time trial. Mark Cavendish‘s second victory was a footnote on a day of rare drama. For those who thought the race was over: think again.
The pace was fast and furious throughout, with a lactic acid-inducing average speed of 47.2kph. Six men went away initially, but with 110km remaining crosswinds split the peloton into three echelons. With Marcel Kittel, who had just dropped his chain, absent from the front group, Omega Pharma-Quick Step upped the pace to ensure he never recovered.
With 87km to go, Movistar’s Valverde, second on GC, punctured and waited for a wheel change rather than commandeering a teammate’s bike. It was a costly error. Despite support from four teammates, he was unable to regain the lost ground as Belkin, spotting an opportunity to promote Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam, lent their weight at the front. The Valverde group was soon joined by Kittel’s, but their combined efforts could not get them closer than 40 seconds, and they eventually admitted defeat, cruising in ten minutes down.
I nearly missed it. I managed to just get in. You’ve got five seconds or it’s over. You’ve got five seconds or you won’t make it.
Cavendish on how easy it is to miss an echelon split
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) took the intermediate sprint ahead of Cavendish (OPQS) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), and the peloton looked set to cruise the final 60km. But Alberto Contador‘s Saxo-Tinkoff team had other ideas, putting in a sudden burst with 32km remaining, allowing 14 men to edge clear. Crucially, Cavendish just made the split, as did Sagan, while Greipel didn’t. Just as vitally, Froome also missed out.
Saxo, with six in the attack, worked feverishly to stretch and finally snap the elastic. From this reduced field, Sylvain Chavanel led out Cavendish, who comfortably held off Sagan, with Mollema taking third. The Froome group, which also contained Cadel Evans (BMC), Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and white jersey contenders Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), followed 1:09 down.
Valverde has now dropped to 16th overall, allowing Mollema to move up to second, with Contador jumping to third. Froome’s advantage is now down to 2:28. Game on.
rider team of the day
OPQS started the shenanigans with Belkin playing a supporting role to dismiss Valverde, but it was Saxo-Tinkoff who breathed life back into the GC battle with their audacious attack which brought back memories of the move on stage 17 of last year’s Vuelta a Espana which propelled Contador to overall victory. Today’s stage, however, was even flatter than the medium mountain profile at the Vuelta.
It was a move which required astute timing, opportunism and immense self-belief to create something out of nothing. So congratulations to the six riders who executed the plan with such vigour towards the end of such a tiring day: Contador, Roman Kreuziger, Michael Rogers, Nicolas Roche, Daniele Bennati and Matteo Tosatto.
I only can say thanks, thanks and thanks to my whole team.Proud of all of you. @teamsaxotinkoff
— Alberto Contador (@albertocontador) July 12, 2013
Opinion & analysis
This was not a day to have a problem, with crosswinds allowing tactically aware teams to exploit small windows of opportunity. Kittel dropped a chain and OPQS put the hammer down. Valverde punctured and Belkin added their shoulders to the wheel. Richie Porte fell away and Saxo-Tinkoff crowbarred that small chink in the armour into a gaping chasm. More than the minute he conceded to several of his rivals here, Chris Froome will be ruing the fact that his team’s weaknesses – Kiryienka and Boasson Hagen gone, Thomas and Kennaugh injured, Porte fragile – are there for all to see.
That vulnerability will fuel the self-belief of his challengers. Prior to today, perhaps only Contador truly believed he could upset the apple cart. Now Belkin will be wondering how they can manoeuvre Mollema closer to the race leader. Whether they will sacrifice Laurens ten Dam is uncertain – I suspect they will ride defensively until after the stage 17 ITT – but Kreuziger will definitely be deployed as a weapon by Saxo at some point.
Movistar will also be wondering how best to switch tactics to use Valverde and Rui Costa to further Nairo Quintana‘s cause. The Colombian is eighth but just 34 seconds behind Kwiatkowski in the race for the white jersey. With Saxo having replaced them at the top of the team standings, Movistar – who plummeted to fifth – will now focus on Quintana to rescue a race which had been going so well before the crosswinds struck.
With sixth-placed Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) 4½ minutes adrift, it looks like we’re down to just five men – and three teams – in the battle for the yellow jersey. But the way these first two weeks have unfolded, who can say for sure?
Stage 13 result
1. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 3:40:08
2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) same time
3. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) s/t
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) s/t
5. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 51:00:30
2. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +2:28
3. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +2:45
4. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +2:48
5. Laurens ten Dam (Belkin) +3:01
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +4:39
7. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +4:44
8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +5:18
9. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:39
10. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +5:52
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Polka dot jersey: Pierre Rolland (Europcar).
White jersey: Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Team classification: Saxo-Tinkoff.
Link: Official website