Romain Bardet is the first rider to take the yellow jersey from Froome
Today marked 50 years since the death of British rider Tom Simpson on Mount Ventoux. Simpson, a former teammate of the great Eddie Merckx was a pioneer of British cycling. Chris Froome may have had aspirations to win today’s stage and pay tribute to Simpson, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, it was the young Frenchman Romain Bardet who dropped the leading pack to take his third stage win at the Tour de France.
There was plenty of discussion as to how Team Sky would approach stage 12 and whether or not their rivals would roll the dice in an attempt to reduce Chris Froome’s advantage as the leader of the race.
Team Sky’s sport director Nicolas Portal said: “We’re not really interested in winning the stage. But this is the first big mountain stage and the idea is to gain something in the finale. At least we want to maintain Chris Froome’s advantage. I foresee attacks starting in the col de Peyresourde, possibly by Nairo Quintana as we see his team-mate Imañol Erviti in the front group now. We’ve been put under pressure but it has strengthened the morale of the team.” French TV
Michael Gogl, Marcus Burghardt and Guillaume van Keirsbulck were the first three attackers of the day, that break soon increased to 12 riders. Marcel Kittel was among the breakaway, the German sprinter was eyeing up all 20 points at the intermediate sprint. It was however, Michael Mathews who took the spoils, Kittel had to be content with second place and 17 points. Two riders moved away from the main breakaway when Thomas De Gendt and Matthews launched an attack of their own.
Matthews took 10 points in the KOM at the category one climb of Col de Menté. Team Sky reached the bottom of that descent, reeling the breakaway back to 4’21” and began to prepare for the hors category climb of Port de Balès.
Cannondale and AG2R lined up alongside Team Sky as the peloton made its way up to Port de Balès. A break of six riders formed; Cyril Gautier, Stefan Küng, De Gendt, Julien Simon, Jack Bauer and Steve Cummings had an avntage of 3’10” on the peloton.
The break reduced to just Cummings and De Gendt, the latter was dropped soon after. Attacks looked plentiful when Warren Barguil left the peloton, he was followed by a brief burst of speed by Alberto Contador. Cummings looked in good shape and was the first rider over the Port de Balès.
Froome was in hot pursuit of Cummings, and the yellow jersey wearer was protected by his teammates. The watching world enjoyed a comical moment when Froome seemed to lose his bearings, misjudging a right-hand bend, ploughing into a mini campsite, Aru followed him. Both riders recovered, unscathed.
Nairo Quintana hadn’t had a mention all day. With just over 11KM to go the Movistar leader started to go backwards, the Giro d’Italia seems to be taking its toll on the Colombian.
Froome, protected by teammates Michal Kwiatkowski and Mikel Landa was marked by Contador, Rigoberto Uran, Romain Bardet and Aru, Simon Yates and Dan Martin. Contador lost ground with 5Km to go. It looks like his hopes for a third Tour de France are all but over. Nieve’s work was done for the day and Landa was left to look after the leader of the race, Froome.
As the final 300 metres approached an explosion of attacks were made. Froome didn’t look like he had the legs for the 200-metre incline. Bardet finished strongly, 22 seconds ahead of Froome. Aru moves into the yellow jersey with a slender lead of six seconds.
Stage 13 is shorter, it takes the riders 101KM from Saint-Grions to Foix. The World of Cycling will be watching on with interest to see if Froome can respond. Team Sky aren’t as formidable as many thought. There’s a lot of cycling left, it makes the General Classification picture a lot more interesting. Will there be more fireworks on Bastille Day?