Cavendish Wins Stage 13 of Tour de France; Standings Shaken
Stage 13 was supposed to be an uneventful transition stage that the sprinters would decide. The cycling gods, however, decreed otherwise. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took a sprint from Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Bauke Mollema (Belkin) to win the flat, 173-km run from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond in 3:40:08, but Cavendish’s victory paled in importance next to the elimination of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as a GC threat and the rise of Mollema and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff). Chris Froome (Sky) remains the maillot jaune, but his lead has been reduced and he and his team have been shown to be vulnerable.
The stage began like a routine transitional sprint stage. At two km, Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) attacked, and Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Yohann Gene (Europcar), Luis Mate (Cofidis), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM), and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) followed. The break led the bunch by 2:30 at 20 km and by 3:50 at 55 km. Omega Pharma-Quick Step went to the front and pegged the gap at 2:20. The Belgian squad’s acceleration split the peloton into three parts with the heads of state in the lead group and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) in the third group. Stage 12 winner Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) was in the second group.
The wind died down, and Kittel’s group had nearly joined the front group when Omega Pharma-Quick Step accelerated again. Belkin joined the Belgian team, and the gap reopened. The combustion reduced the escapees’ advantage to 0:30 with 98 km left.
On the Category 4 Cote de Crotz, the bunch overtook the break. At the summit, the front group led Kittel’s group by 0:50. At the feedzone with 87 km left, the lead group led Kittel’s group by 1:05 and Hesjedal’s group by 2:15. Valverde, who began the day in second overall, punctured. He took a wheel from a teammate, and three Movistar men dropped back to pace him back to the front group, while a fourth dropped back to help him.
For a time, it appeared that the Spaniard would rejoin the front group. Belkin, however, joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step at the front and brought the hammer down. Movistar joined forces with Argos-Shimano and Orica-GreenEdge. The chase group trailed the lead group by 1:19 with 69 km left.
The Valverde group closed to within 0:50 with 50 km to go, but Belkin accelerated again. A number of riders, including Richie Porte (Sky), dropped out of the lead group, and 10 km later, the yellow jersey group led the Valverde group by 2:00. With 35 km left, the gap had widened to 2:30.
Three km later, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff went into team time trial mode. The Danish squad, which came within 0:09 of winning the Stage 4 team time trial, went to the front of the lead group and accelerated. The front group split, and Froome and several Sky teammates were left behind. The new lead group consisted of Roman Kreuziger, Daniele Bennati, Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers, and Matteo Tosatto (all from Saxo Bank-Tinkoff); Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam (both from Belkin); Jakob Fuglsang (Astana); Cavendish, Sylvain Chavanel, and Niki Terpstra (all from Omega Pharma-Quick Step); and Sagan and Maciej Bodnar (both from Cannondale). The group did not make an immediate impression, as it led the yellow jersey group by only 0:10 with 28 km left.
BMC and Sky led the second group’s pursuit, but BMC fell off of the pace, and Sky lacked the horsepower to chase. With 20 km left, the lead group had 0:30 on the yellow jersey group. At this point, the Valverde group was five minutes behind the leaders and would not catch them.
With 15 km left, the first group led the second group by 0:45. Katusha and Sky joined forces and shaved a few seconds off of the lead, but the first group accelerated again. With 10 km to go, the gap had returned to 0:45, and when Ag2r-La Mondiale took over at the front, it approached one minute. Omega Pharma-Quick Step took command, and the front group’s lead surpassed one minute.
With 1.3 km left, Terpstra jumped into the lead. Bodnar took his wheel, while Chavanel led out Cavendish, who had Sagan on his wheel. Sagan took the lead in the last km, but Cavendish jumped the Slovak with 200 m to go for the win. Valverde finished 9:40 down and plummeted from second to 16th overall.
According to Cavendish, none of what happened today was surprising. "It was incredible, we talked about it this morning as we knew the wind was strong," Cavendish said. "Gert Steegmans wanted to go, this was after 60km, and Tony Martin said to wait a little longer. Next thing, Gert goes and it just kicked off from there. It wasn't quite strong enough to break it open completely, but then Saxo-Tinkoff went again later. It was incredible. I am so happy and proud of the guys. They rode out of their skin today, like, every one of them. It is just incredible to get a win like that.
"We're a Belgian team used to riding in the crosswinds," Cavendish said. "We've got guys who are experienced at it. They're strong at it, so along with Belkin it was a strong combination to get the move going and split the peloton to begin with."
In the overall, Froome leads Mollema by 2:28 and Contador by 2:45. Stage 14 is a better candidate for shaking up the standings than most thought that Stage 12 would be. The 191-km ride from Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioulle to Lyon has seven categorized climbs, with two Category 3s in the middle third of the stage being the toughest ascents. It is a stage that a breakaway could take, although a bunch sprint is more likely. After today, however, anything is possible. Will breakaways ride away with the victory? Will the sprinters’ teams reel in the break? Will the GC squads put the squeeze on Sky again? For the answers to these questions and others, check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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