Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won stage 12 at the Tour de France on Thursday.
The Norwegian finished ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to triumph in the 185.5km stage from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Étienne. Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr) took third in the finishing sprint.
Kristoff was led out by teammate Luca Paolini, and when Paolini pulled off with a few hundred meters left, Kristoff clung to the wheels of Matteo Trentin and another Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider. With about 150 meters remaining, Kristoff swung around to the right and sprinted to the finish line.
Sagan, whose teammates formed a perfect leadout train with 3.5km left in the stage, got caught behind several riders in the final kilometer and had to climb his way back near the front. He put in a huge effort trying to pass Kristoff but he came up just short. Sagan has now finished second four times at this Tour.
“It’s a great feeling, I’ve been dreaming about this since [I was] a child,” Kristoff said afterward. “Luca did a great job to keep me up front, I was just sitting on Trentin the last 500 meters. I saw [John] Degenkolb start, so I decided to start. For sure there will be champagne tonight.”
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) kept his overall lead, holding a 2:23 advantage over Richie Porte (Sky) and a 2:47 buffer over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
After a handful of failed attacks, a five-man breakaway group formed 10km into the stage. Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp) was the first man to go, and he was joined by Gregory Rast (Trek Factory Racing), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), David de la Cruz (NetApp-Endura), and Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Séché).
The fivesome worked together and shared pulling duties throughout their time in front, and at one point the peloton gave them a leash of about 5:00. Giant-Shimano was leading the main pack and gave up the reins to Europcar with 70km remaining.
Meanwhile, de la Cruz crashed around a right turn with about 94km left in the stage. He was holding his right shoulder and was immediately tended to by medical personnel. He abandoned the race.
“This is my first Tour de France. Some friends of mine like Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez] and Juan Antonio Flecha told me to forget everything I’ve experienced before. They were right,” de la Cruz told letour.com before the stage. “I’m living the most extraordinary moment of my life. I was targeting the polka dot jersey but Purito is too strong. We arrive on a terrain that I like. I aim at breaking away and I’d like to shine at Pla d’Adet close to my home.”
As the peloton picked up more speed, the gap to the escapees continued to shrink. It was down to around 2:30 with 55km left, at which point Vachon fell back. He was swallowed up by the peloton 3km later. Rast also slowed at that point, and he dropped back to the peloton with 42.5km remaining in the stage.
Langeveld and Clarke held a steady 2:00 gap on the peloton with 33km left. On the slopes of the Cat. 4 Cote de Grammond (9.8km, 2.9 percent average), Langeveld accelerated and broke away from Clarke. He summited the climb first and was in the lead with 21.5km left. But two Europcar riders — Perrig Quémeneur and Cyril Gautier — who attacked the peloton earlier reached Clarke shortly after the summit. The trio flew down the road, taking the sweeping turns at the proper angles as they tried to stave off the peloton.
The main field, however, was fast approaching on the quick descent. There was just 20 seconds of real estate between the two groups with 10km left, at which point Quémeneur ran out of steam and dropped back. With Giant-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol leading the way, the peloton caught the remaining two escapees with just over 5km left.
From that point, it was a high-speed race to the finish.
The race picks up with Friday’s stage 13, a 197.5km route from Saint-Étienne to Chamrousse that ends in an HC climb of Montée de Chamrousse.