Britain’s Mark Cavendish was narrowly beaten to the win on stage 12 into the city of Tour after a day long break was caught with just a few kilometres to go. Cavendish looked odds-on for stage victory after a perfect leadout from teammate Gert Steegmans but Marcel Kittel had the legs to pass him and win by a wheel.
Following yesterday’s individual time trial, Sky Procycling’s Chris Froome had a three minute and 25 second lead over Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde but the pendulum had swung once more towards the sprinters – the 218 km flat stage from Fougeres to Tour offering an opportunity for Cavendish to get back on terms with his sprint rivals Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel. Despite winning a stage apiece thus far, Cavendish lay a distant third in the green jersey contest, 103 points behind leader Sagan.
The opportunity couldn’t come too soon for the British champion, after the frustration and controversy of stage 10’s finish and the ignominy of have urine thrown at it him during the time trial the following day.
A five man group of Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel), Manuele Mori (Lampre), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun) drifted away early in the stage. Initiated by the Astana man, the break got over nine minutes on the peloton before the sprinters’ teams began to sit up and take notice, beginning a patient and calculated pursuit that lasted much of the afternoon.
With the teams of Omega Pharma Quick Step (Cavendish), Lotto Belisol (Greipel) and Argos Shimano (Kittel) sharing the work, the breakaway lead was down to less than three minutes at the intermediate sprint at Savigné-sur-Lathan. Italian Gavazzi took the top points and the cash prize after Flecha took it on early but more relevant was the battle for sixth a few minutes later, where Cavendish took maximum available points and a psychological advantage over Greipel, as a frustrated Sagan was blocked-in against the barriers in the final effort.
After what seemed an age, the break (now a quartet after Sicard sat up at the intermediate sprint) was finally caught with 13 kilometres to go, except for Flecha who launched a final do or die effort, initially with Gavazzi for company. The Vacansoleil DCM rider actually began to increase his gap despite Orica GreenEDGE joining the teams of Cavendish, Greipel and Kittel in an effort to chase the former Sky Procycling rider down.
An exhausted Flecha was finally consumed with just six kilometres to go and the preparations for a bunch bunfight began. Coming into one of Tours’ many roundabouts, Orica GreenEDGE lost a man to a crash at the head of the peloton. Amazingly, no one else was caught up and the sprint wind-up continued.
Then a crash in the middle of the peloton decimated the group with Froome narrowly avoiding trouble. Cavendish’s rival Andre Greipel wasn’t so lucky, missing out of the sprint.
As the sprint opened up Cavendish was on teammate Steegmans’ wheel coming out of the slipstream in the last 500 metres. It looked to be a foregone conclusion until Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano) emerged from behind the British champion to edge past and claim another stage victory.
Small consolation for Cavendish was that he ended the day up to second place in the green jersey contest thanks to his performance in the intermediate sprint and Greipel's late crash.
Despite the scare moments earlier, Chris Froome finished safely in the bunch and maintained his overall advantage. However, Froome's teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen was caught up in the bunch pileup and crossed the line holding his shoulder.
In his post stage interview with ITV4 Froome was releaved to have narrowly missed the crash which brought down his teammate. "I could hear it but I couldn't see anything," said Froome before commenting on Boassan Hagen's condition and the role that the Norwegian plays in the team.
"Edvald's a huge part of the team and such a versatile rider on the mountains and the flats so I really hope he's alright.
"I was on my teammates' wheels throughout the day. Another day where you just have to concentrate all the way through and keep an eye on proceedings."
1 KITTEL Marcel Team Argos - Shimano 04:49:49
2 CAVENDISH Mark Omega Pharma - Quick-Step ,,
3 SAGAN Peter Cannondale Pro Cycling Team ,,
4 KRISTOFF Alexander Katusha Team ,,
5 FERRARI Roberto Lampre - Merida ,,
6 IMPEY Daryl Orica GreenEDGE ,,
7 ROJAS GIL Jose Joaquin Movistar Team ,,
8 GENE Yohann Team Europcar ,,
9 LOBATO DEL VALLE Juan Jose Euskaltel - Euskadi ,,
10 DUMOULIN Samuel AG2R La Mondiale ,,
1 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling 47:19:13
2 VALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro Movistar Team 03:25
3 MOLLEMA Bauke Belkin Pro Cycling Team 03:37
4 CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto Team Saxo-Tinkoff 03:54
5 KREUZIGER Roman Team Saxo-Tinkoff 03:57
6 TEN DAM Laurens Belkin Pro Cycling Team 04:10
7 KWIATKOWSKI Michal Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 04:44
8 QUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander Movistar Team 05:18
9 COSTA Rui Movistar Team 05:37
10 PERAUD Jean-Christophe AG2R La Mondiale 05:39
1 SAGAN Peter Cannondale Pro Cycling Team 307
2 CAVENDISH Mark Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 211
3 GREIPEL Andre Lotto Belisol Team 195
4 KITTEL Marcel Team Argos - Shimano 177
5 KRISTOFF Alexander Katusha Team 157
6 ROJAS GIL Jose Joaquin Movistar Team 102
7 KWIATKOWSKI Michal Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 101
8 FLECHA Juan Antonio Vacansoleil - DCM 97
9 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald Sky Procycling 88
10 VAN POPPEL Danny Vacansoleil - DCM 87