David Millar became the fourth member of the GB Olympic Road race team to win a stage in this year’s Tour de France with a textbook demonstration of how to close things out from a small break. It was also the fourth win in the race for Millar, but his first for nine years.
The 12th stage of the 2012 Tour de France was a distinctly hilly run of 226km from Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay. That made it the longest stage of the race this year.
Millar was part of a five man break which spent the vast majority of the day away. With no contenders in their number, a tired peloton was happy to give them the scope to build a big lead and with two thirds of the stage gone it became clear that they were going to be allowed to stay away.
The other members of the break were Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) , Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Robert Kiserlovski (Astana). Their truce came to an end some five kilometres for the end of the stage when a series of attack culminated in Peraud breaking clear. Millar rapidly reacted and crossed to the Frenchman, a silver medallist in Beijing in mountain biking, and the pair were six second clear as they went under the one kilometre to go banner.
Millar then simply waited for Peraud to open up the sprint and coolly out-accelerated him to claim a deceptively simple looking win on the gently uphill finish.
Chris Boardman, speaking on ITV4 called Millar’s win “tactically brilliant”. Millar himself said that once he got into the break that he had no doubt that he would win: “I was determined – once I was in the break I gave myself no options, I was going to win today. I knew I could win the sprint and my tactic was to close down every attack.”
He did exactly that and, once he and Peraud had ditched the other three riders, with two and a half kilometres to go, he was a clear favourite to win.
However, Millar, an elder-statesman of the peloton at 35, has a good appreciation of the bigger picture and his post stage interviews were typically intelligent. He first referenced the fact that with his Garmin-Sharp shorn of its team leaders in the first week, he had the unexpected freedom to go for an individual win.
Then, speaking about the fact that the stage came on the 45th anniversary of the death of Tom Simpson in the Tour, Millar dedicated his ride to the memory of the former world champion. He also made his now familiar and frank admission that he’s a reformed doper and showed clear pride in the fact that he was the fourth British rider to win a stage this year: “We’re clean riders and we’re dominating the Tour de France”, he concluded.
Reflecting on Millar’s win and the fact that it came after wins in the last few days for himself and Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins joked, “Dave had been feeling a bit left out this week,” before looking ahead a couple of weeks, pointing out that “It bodes well for the Olympic Road Race.”
Behind the breakaway, the main peloton came in just under eight minutes down. Matt Goss won the sprint for sixth, but was soon relegated thanks to a swerve to the left which derailed Peter Sagan's parallel charge for the line. Sagan inherited sixth, ahead of Seb Hinault.
Team Sky worked hard all day to ensure the break was, at least, kept within reasonable limits. Bradley Wiggins was generally visible in the first dozen or so riders and kept out of trouble throughout, even joining in the sprint for sixth at the end. However, Wiggins did report post-stage that he'd been hit by a flare fired by an over-enthusiastic fan on one of the mid-stage climbs, underlining the fact that with over a week to go, this Tour still has the potential to turn sour for the apparently dominant Sky team.
Team Sky reaction to the stage
"It was a tough stage today," said Wiggins after the finish. "Everyone just sees the last 100 kilometres but the first 100 was probably as hard as any Tour de France stage so far. And even in the finish there, you couldn't relax for one minute because it was a tricky finish.
"For Dave to win after the season that he's had is impressive and to do so on the anniversary of Tom [Simpson's death] is fantastic."
Wiggins also revealed he had been struck by a flare 25km out from the finish on the Cote d'Ardoix climb. He said: "I'm covered in yellow stuff at the moment.
"I got hit on the arm with a flare at 25k to go. It burnt my arm a bit, but other than that it was all right.
"There were quite a few guys running up the hill with lit flares in the peloton. It was pretty dangerous."
Sports Director Sean Yates also summed up a stage of two halves which saw the team again impress with a controlled performance.
He said: “It was hard at the start and the other teams didn’t make it easy for us, but at the same time they didn’t make it easy for themselves either and we shut down any moves that were dangerous.
“It’s another day down but no stage is easy at the Tour. We knew it had the potential to turn into a difficult scenario but in the end it all played out nicely. On the second climb Coppel jumped away and then at the top Bradley jumped out and closed the final 10 seconds to nullify the threat.
“After the climbs it slowed right down and it meant that the whole gruppetto with Bernie and Cav could catch up and help out so it all worked out.”
The focus is likely to be on the sprinters on Saturday in the 13th stage as a largely flat route heads to the seaside resort of Le Cap d'Agde.
Tour de France Stage 12
1 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp 5:42:46
2 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
3 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:05
4 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar
5 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team
6 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:07:53
7 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:54
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
9 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha Team
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 54:34:33
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
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