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LE CAP D’AGDE, France (AFP) — Germany’s Andre Greipel claimed his third victory of this year’s Tour de France as Bradley Wiggins of Britain held on to the yellow jersey at the end of the 13th stage.
Greipel, who rides for Lotto, finished just ahead of Slovakian sprint rival Peter Sagan (Liquigas) in a tight finish in which Wiggins astonishingly tried to set up Sky teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen.
“Edvald’s done a lot of work for me in the mountains, so we tried to pay him back by setting him up there at the finish,” said Wiggins.
But Boasson Hagen could only finish third on the 217km stage, which began in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
“I’m really happy with this victory,” said Greipel, one of the few sprinters able to successfully negotiate the Mont Saint Clair climb, whose summit was 20km from the finish.
“The team did a great job for me today. It’s amazing. You can be really happy with just one victory in the Tour de France, but this one is a bit special because of the Mont Saint Clair being there near the finish.
“We deserved this.”
Despite a potentially treacherous finale due to crosswinds leading to Cap d’Agde, Wiggins stayed out of danger to retain his lead of two minutes and five seconds over teammate Chris Froome.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) is still third at 2:23 while defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is fourth at 3:19.
Greipel won stages 4 and 5 in this year’s race and now has four in total, having claimed his maiden Tour stage in 2011.
World champion Mark Cavendish (Sky), the winner of 21 stages on the Tour but only one this edition, was one of a large bunch of riders left behind on the slopes of the Mont Saint Clair.
After an eight-man breakaway formed in the opening kilometers, they were allowed to go on and build a maximum lead of nine minutes on the peloton.
But with the stage win and points for the green jersey at stake, and the potential danger to the overall victory contenders, it wasn’t long before the peloton upped the pace.
The Orica-GreenEdge team of sprinter Matt Goss hit the front and with 70km to race the leaders’ gap had dropped to just over two minutes.
Minutes later, Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) jumped away in the hope of taking his attack all the way to the finish in remembrance of his father, who died six years ago to the day.
But the first slopes of the Saint Clair ended his hopes and the peloton, which had also reeled in his seven companions, soon powered past.
Evans surged ahead in a bid to distance Wiggins and his Sky team. The move failed, but caused a split that left a select group at the front and Goss among those off the back.
Wiggins said the move had not scared him: “I don’t know if it was an attack, but it was far from the finish and I knew the climb because I’d raced it on the Midi Libre.”
With 16km remaining Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) launched his attack, joined by GreenEdge’s Michael Albasini.
Their two-man bid was doomed by the sustained efforts of Greipel’s Lotto team.
Although the Belgian outfit came apart in the closing kilometer when Wiggins made a rare appearance to lead out Boasson Hagen, Greipel finished the job off in style thanks to a timely lift of his front wheel at the finish.
Even Sagan, who has also won three stages, had to applaud.
“He lifted his bike faster than me, but that’s the way it is. He deserved it,” said Sagan.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned to VeloNews.com for more from stage 13 of the 2012 Tour de France.