Instead, it turned into a ripping, full-gas race as soon as the flag dropped.
Why? Because Peter Sagan is chasing the green jersey.
“It was hard again today,” said yellow jersey Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma). “I thought after yesterday we might have it easier today. It was really hard racing today.”
With the GC riders cooling their jets ahead of Sunday’s HC summit at Grand Colombier, and the sprinters realizing the bumpy profile to Lyon was a tad too hard, the 194km stage should have been a day for a big breakaway hunting for the victory.
Instead, the race was fast from start to finish in large part because Sagan and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates wanted to drop green jersey rival Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), and put Sagan back in contention for the victory and the green jersey race.
“Peter still wants to fight for the green jersey,” said Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss. “He was not happy about [the relegation] but he will keep racing for green. I am sure he will have it in Paris.”
Sagan’s relegation in stage 11 for a shoulder barge in the final sprint continues to play out days later.
Bennett moved into the green jersey that day in Poitiers, and Sagan wants it back. The Slovakian has won a record seven green jerseys, and the team is determined to put up a fight.
Typically, Sagan has no challengers by the end of the second week, and the mid-stage and finish-line points bonuses are not a major factor in the dynamics of how a stage plays out so deep in the Tour.
This year, it’s very different. With Sagan, clearly not at his top level, still hunting for a stage win, Bora-Hansgrohe poured on the gas Saturday. Solo breakaway rider Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) eventually sat up because no one else dared to attack with Bora-Hansgrohe driving so hard. Other teams are noticing.
“It makes the race even more difficult with this green jersey fight going on,” said CCC’s Greg Van Avermaet. “We were looking at Bora and what they were going to do. If the other sprinters were not there, that gives us a better chance to win. It was a hard effort to be there.”
During the past three stages, Bora-Hansgrohe has been chasing the mid-stage bonuses and trying to make it hard for Bennett on the climbs.
After the relegation in stage 11, Bennett’s lead grew to 68 points. That’s been slowly whittled down to 43 points going into Sunday’s stage to Grand Colombier. The start tomorrow will be equally as fast because there is a bonus sprint on flat roads at 57.5km.
On Saturday, Bora-Hansgrohe drove it hard over two steeper climbs midway on the road to Lyon to drop Bennett and some of the other fastmen in the bunch. Bennett admitted he’s trying to weather the Bora-Hansgrohe storm.
“Yesterday I was dead; this morning I was a new man,” said Bennett, who finished last up Puy Mary. “In the first intermediate sprint I saw what Bora was doing, trying to harm me, so I let them go… I am in a better shape than yesterday. I was afraid I might not come back from yesterday.”
Saturday’s stage-winner Søren Kragh Andersen said Bora-Hansgrohe’s aggressive tactics played perfectly into how he managed to attack the bunch on a short but step fourth-category climb in the closing kilometers.
“It had a big impact on the race,” Kragh Andersen said. “They made the peloton half the size because they were driving so hard. For us, it was a perfect situation for our team.”
More than intermediate sprints, Sagan needs a victory if he wants to catapult back into the points jersey fight. With the true sprinters like Bennett and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) out of the frame, the stage was ideal for Sagan.
Kragh Andersen spoiled the party, and then Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) and Simone Consonni (Cofidis) zipped past Sagan for the bunch sprint.
“Hats off to Bora. Everyone knew what they were going to do and they did it,” Mezgec said. “They made hard on the climbs, and harder in the finish.”
Sagan was in the points in Lyon, but far from how the team wanted it to play out.
With Bennett clearly struggling in the mountains, however, Bora-Hansgrohe will keep applying the pressure all the way to Paris.
Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White said after Sagan came up short for the stage win, the only thing that will keep Bennett from winning green is that if the Irishman cannot survive the Alps.
“It was the last roll of the dice for Peter Sagan to win his eighth points jersey,” White said. “It was all or nothing. If it was the ‘old’ Peter Sagan, they wouldn’t even be chasing because he’d be 50,100 points in the lead. With his placings today, I don’t want to say it’s totally impossible, but it’s going to be very, very difficult to get Sam Bennett out of that green jersey.”