Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) timed his sprint perfectly and won stage 12 of the Tour de France from a three-man sprint, besting Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the Pyrenean town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre, after a daylong breakaway.
Coming into the final tight corner, Yates sat on the wheels of his break-mates. The Briton launched first, sweeping through the final bend to hold off the other two riders.
“I’ve been saving energy all the way until we got here into the mountains and this was my first time to try something,” Yates said after the 210km stage. “Normally I’d be back in the peloton helping [my brother] Adam. Today I got my own chance and I grabbed it with both hands.”
Between the riders, it wasn’t clear who would have the best sprint to take the day, but Yates’s sport directors made sure he knew the final few bends of the course to give him confidence for the sprint.
“I wasn’t very confident beating either of them,” Yates continued. “I didn’t know how fast they were. I just knew from the directors in the car, they told me I needed to be in the front coming around the last corner. So, I made sure to do that and luckily I held on to win.”
In the battle for the general classification, it was a calm day. The main GC contenders called a stalemate, and there were no attacks of the yellow jersey, Julian Alaphilippe, or the strongmen of Team Ineos. The peloton calmly rolled across the line, led by all eight riders of the British super-squad, over nine minutes back from the stage winner.
Alaphilippe remained the leader of the Tour by 1:12 over Geraint Thomas and 1:16 over Egan Bernal (both Team Ineos).
“We expected attacks today on the Peyresourde,” Thomas said. “But nothing really happened.”
How the stage unfolded
Stage 12 began fast with many attacks, though initially nothing was able to stick.
Ultimately, it took 40 kilometers of hard racing to establish the break of the day. It included 40 riders, notably Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the green jersey, sprinters Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), and Michael Matthews (Sunweb), as well as Michael Morkov (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), polka dot jersey Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Nicholas Roche (Sunweb), Rui Costa (Bahrain-Merida), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Valgren (Dimension Data), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), among others.
In total, 19 of the 22 teams in the Tour were represented in the break.
Wellens won the first KOM of the day, the category 4 Côte de Montoulieu-Saint-Bernard. With 110km to go, the break was 4:10 ahead of the peloton.
With 80km to go, Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) abandoned the race. Around the same time, a crash victim from stage 11, Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data) also abandoned.
Sagan left nothing to chance and easily took maximum points at the stage’s lone sprint line. As the break approached the Col de Peyresourde, Kristoff and Colbrelli distanced the big group of breakaway riders. Soon, Kristoff fell off the pace, and Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) bridged up. Not long after, the war of attrition kicked in, and soon Kristoff was off the back of the break, along with Groenewegen, Boasson Hagen, and Cees Bol (Sunweb).
Calmejane forged ahead, alone, and built a 45 second lead over Wellens in the polka dots, and 1:40 over the green jersey group, which slowly lost rider after rider. The Quick-Step-led peloton was 5:40 back.
Wellens’ Lotto-Soudal teammates took the front of the chase group to pull back Calmejane by the summit, to maximize Wellens’ take of KOM points; Wellens launched to catch the lone Frenchman at the line.
Simon Clarke (EF Education First), celebrating his 33rd birthday on the day, attacked over the summit of the Peyresourde, diving down the pass in his supertuck position. By its base, he had a lead of over 45 seconds. The peloton crested the pass 5:45 behind.
At the base of the final climb of the day, the 9.9km Horquette d’Ancizan, Clarke had increased his lead to 1:30 over a chase group of 26 riders. Trentin launched from the group to try to claw back Clarke.
Next to try and bridge was Yates, whose teammate Trentin pedaled 20 seconds ahead. Roche, Mathias Frank (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) latched onto the back wheel of the Australian. Then Mühlberger tried his own hand.
With 35km to go, Trentin caught and passed Clarke. Soon after, Yates sprinted up to join his teammate, with Muhlberger just behind. The remnants of the break were scattered all over the Horquette. Meanwhile, Team Ineos amassed at the front of the peloton to control the pace, 6:30 back.
At the summit, Yates led with Mühlberger on his wheel. Pello Bilbao (Astana) passed 10 seconds back. A group of six was another 30 seconds behind. The peloton crested over eight minutes back.
On the descent, Bilbao quickly caught the leading duo. As a group of three, they worked well, extending their lead on the long, non-technical descent to Bageneres-de-Bigorre. With 5km to go, their lead was two minutes, and it was clear the stage winner would come from the trio.