Bradley Wiggins remains in the yellow jersey with a two minute five second margin after an action packed stage 13 to Le Cap d’Agde, the Team Sky rider policing an attack from GC rival Cadel Evans on the nasty climb of Mont St Clair before selflessly leading out teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen in the sprint, which was won in a photo finish by Lotto Belisol’s Andre Greipel.
The stage was shaken up early on when a group of eight riders slipped away; Maxime Bouet, Michael Morkov, Jerome Pineau, Matthieu Ladagnous, Samuel Dumoulin, Roy Curvers, Pablo Perez Urtasun and Jimmy Engoulvent.
The octet quickly built a lead of over eight minutes after just 50km of the 217km Bastille Day stage. However as the race moved into its final third, the peloton began to peg the break back. The attacks in the escape group began, with Pineau having the first poke before serial escapee Michael Morkov went clear and built a lead of over a minute over his seven breakaway counterparts.
Yet it was it this point that the famous Mediterranean winds began to take their toll, Morkov began to struggle into the wind and hitting the foot of the third category climb of Mont St Clair, blew up and was caught by the peloton who had also overwhelmed the seven escapees.
As many predicted, it was at this point that Evans, over three minutes back on Wiggins on GC, tried to snatch some valuable seconds, attacking midway up the 9% climb. The 2011 champion jumped away and looked dangerous but, as in the Alps, Wiggins slowly reeled the Australian back in, nullifying the threat.
After the descent, Sky took control on the front in an attempt to moderate the pace and help Mark Cavendish, who had been dropped on the climb, to regain contact for the finish. However, it transpired that Cavendish had lost over a minute with just 16km to go and with it, his chance of stage victory.
Moments later Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana attacked, joined by an Argos rider and the pair began to get away until Andre Greipel’s Lotto Belisol team hit the front and reeled the escape in. Then a counterattack from Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez threatened to further spoil the sprinters' party.
However the group’s pace in the final few kilometres soon overwhelmed Sanchez and the sprint was on, with Wiggins leading out teammate Boasson Hagen for the win, paying back the Norwegian national champion for his supporting efforts thus far. However, Greipel and Sagan were too strong in the final few metres and Boasson Hagen had to settle for third, with Wiggins crossing the line just behind the sprinters, keeping out of trouble and ensuring that his GC lead remained intact.
Speaking to ITV after the stage, when asked if the day had gone to plan, Team Sky Performance Director Dave Brailsford said, “That was the intention from this morning, the climb was always going to be a bit tricky from the bottom... ...so the guys wanted to stay at the front then at about 2.5km to go it dragged up and the intention was always to take in on there and keep Brad out of trouble.
“Then of course when he realised that he had Eddy (Boasson Hagen) on his wheel then I think there was a bit of payback there and off he went to try and set Eddy up for the sprint. I think he’s still got his climbing legs but he deserved the chance after all the work he’s been doing for the team over the last couple of days. So it’s been a nice touch by Brad to be honest.”
Speaking after the podium presentation, Wiggins echoed the words of his team director:
"Most of the time you're doing the same effort whether you're on front or 20th or 30th wheel with a finish like that with the wind doing what it was. There was no extra exertion doing the lead-out and it was just nice to help Eddie [Boasson Hagen] because he's an absolute gentleman and I'd like to be able to pay him back in some way."
Wiggins then went on to explain the team's tactics on a windswept stage with a tough, puncutating climb close to a technical finish.
“It's always difficult and it's better at times when you've got a climb like that at the finish because you've got less guys. And the wind at the end wasn't actually too difficult; the most difficult part of the day was getting to the climb in a good position because obviously a lot of guys were still there. Yeah, so it's another step closer to Paris.
“After the climb it was a lot easier because there weren't as many riders in our group but it was a day when you really couldn't take your eye off the ball and you had to keep concentrating.
“I had asked what the situation was with Cav and when Sean [Yates] said he wasn't coming back, all our attention turned to Edvald and trying to help him out. It was a good stage.
“Tomorrow, on paper, shouldn't be a day when things get out of hand. But I think it's a day for the breakaway again and we'll just marshal everything on the last climb but it's a long way to the finish after that.”
Stage 13 Result
1 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 4:57:59
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
4 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
5 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
6 Julien Simon (Fra) Saur - Sojasun
7 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
9 Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre – ISD
12 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
15 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
67 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:08:36
133 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp 0:14:04
141 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team
General Classification after stage 13
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 59:32:32
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:04:48
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:06:15
7 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:06:57
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:07:30
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:31
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:08:51
83 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp 1:32:36
89 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team 1:39:11
150 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 2:14:40