Victory at last for Politt
In every Tour de France, there is at least one stage when a rider who just never wins makes a mockery of their absent palmarès and takes the glory.
This year, it’s Nils Politt of Bora-Hansgrohe who has stepped up, winning his first ever Grand Tour stage and claiming just the second victory of his career, three years after winning a stage of the Deutschland Tour.
It’s not that Politt is a domestique who isn’t afforded opportunities for himself – in 2019 he finished second at Paris-Roubaix and fifth at the Tour of Flanders – but more that he always comes up just short.
The German has finished in the top-5 of races 43 times since he turned professional in 2016, and been second or third on 23 occasions.
All that heartache makes days like today even sweeter though, and now the 27-year-old can deservedly call himself a Grand Tour stage winner.
A good end to the day for Bora-Hansgrohe after a bad start
Politt’s success was exactly the response his Bora-Hansgrohe team needed following this morning’s announcement that their talisman Peter Sagan was to abandon the race, the latest big star to have done so.
The seven-time winner of the green jersey has struggled during the Tour as a result of his crash on stage three with Caleb Ewan, and ongoing knee pain means that the Slovakian has packed his bags for home.
It will be a huge disappointment for Sagan who was desperate to reclaim the green jersey, but in truth he hasn’t looked like the rider who won three worlds championships in the first 11 stages.
He has returned to form this year following a poorer 2020, and he will be aiming to recover from his injury in time for success later in the season.
It is likely to have been the last time he will have raced in the Tour for his current employers, with Sagan expected to join TotalEnergies from 2022 onwards.
Gimme a chance! Winless teams infiltrate the break
There were representatives from 10 teams in the break, with only one, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, having won a stage of this year’s Tour.
With the race having passed the halfway mark, only seven teams have been victorious so far, with Quick-Step taking four wins, three through Mark Cavendish and one through Julian Alaphilippe, their rider in the break.
As the number of days left to win a stage runs out, teams are desperate to increase their chances of success and it was no surprise to see such a fight to enter the day’s break.
There were big teams present who have yet to win so far: Lotto-Soudal, Movistar, Team BikeExchange and Trek-Segafredo, and the quality of the break was indicative of the pressure some teams are now facing to get on the board.
Edvald Boasson Hagen led TotalEnergies, André Greipel for Israel Start-Up Nation and Edward Theuns for Trek-Segafredo. Experience was what teams opted for in their ongoing quest for stage success.
Bora-Hansgrohe ended their drought, but the wait goes on for so many more.
Disappointment for Cavendish and fellow sprinters
Nils Politt triumphing wasn’t the only shock of the day – the mere fact that the victory came from the breakaway was a surprise in itself.
The transition stage looked destined to end in a sprint finish, just as it did in 2019 when Caleb Ewan raised his hands in the finishing city of Nîmes.
But as soon as the 11 riders went up the road, the peloton were content to let them settle and instead have a calmer but attentive day out riding in the south of France.
Mark Cavendish’s dominance of the sprint stages in the past week meant that sprint teams were happy to try something new and send a rider up the road, while Julian Alaphilippe’s presence among the escapees prevented Deceuninck – Quick-Step from pulling hard on the front of the peloton.
We may see something similar happening in the forthcoming sprint stages, for teams now know that the best way to stop Cavendish from succeeding is to prevent a sprint from happening at all.
As we were in the general classification
Wind had threatened to rip stage 12 apart, and in the opening kilometres it had done just that before a split peloton regrouped and remained together until the finish.
Having been a very nervous race already, UAE Team Emirates will be satisfied that no echelons were formed in the latter stages of the day and their leader Tadej Pogačar maintains his five-minute advantage at the top of the general classification.
There will be regret for those trying to reduce their deficit to him or just cement a place on the podium, for stages in this region of France have shown repeatedly down the years that the wind can have a defining impact.
Instead, if Pogačar is to lose time and if others like Richard Carapaz and Enric Mas are to occupy a podium place, it is the looming mountains of the Pyrenees where they will have to do the business.
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