Rodriguez, Fuglsang and Bardet played it perfectly
Well, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) played it perfectly as he soloed to stage victory, but he, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) all had eyes on a high GC placing earlier this week and quickly found themselves way back from the top-10 after the first mountains appeared.
But they used that to their advantage here.
None of these three are likely to threaten the podium, but this was a day for the breakaway with the summit finish to Plateau de Beille and all three made it in to the main 25-man move off the front.
The chance of a stage win and clawing time to get back in to the top-10 was too good an opportunity to throw away, and they were three left fighting it out as they reached the foot of the final Hors Categorie climb, despite Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx – Quick-Step) sitting a minute up the road.
They’re still not into the top-10 yet, sitting 14th, 15th and 17th respectively, but that six minutes they took on the yellow jersey group gives them a sporting chance.
For 24-year-old Bardet, it’s a steep learning curve after his sixth place finish in last year’s Tour, as he matches up to all of the world’s best climbers and not just Vicenzo Nibali (Astana). But he’s working himself back into this Tour and could still finish as the best placed Frenchman as Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) begins his descent down the overall standings.
Jakob Fuglsang is trying to find his place in this Astana squad, having become some kind of quasi-leader for Kazakh team after Nibali’s disastrous ride to La Pierre-Saint-Martin on stage 10. And it looks as though the Dane is probably the one with better legs despite still sitting behind the Italian on GC.
For Rodriguez, who’s in the twilight of his career at 36, there’s little chance of him improving on his third place finish in the 2013 Tour. But two stage wins already, a shot at the King of the Mountains (he now sits second behind Froome) and a potential top-10, all demonstrate Purito’s still up there with the best of them.
Chris Froome will be thanking Geraint Thomas
Flying high in fifth overall, Geraint Thomas has almost got a touch of the 2012 Chris Froome about him in the manner he’s supporting his leader.
Pacing your team leader into the climbs is one thing, but staying there on the front and even chasing down Nairo Quintana when you’ve fallen behind is a demonstration that you should probably be leading a team yourself.
Nevertheless, maillot jaune Froome will be thanking his lucky stars he’s got the Welshman by his side, as he would have been open to even more attacks from Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador if he’d had to do it all by himself.
He managed it when he won in 2013, but with a number of difficult mountain stages to come and with both the Movistar riders looking like they’re up for the challenge of bringing him down, this was definitely not a point where the Sky leader would be wanting to expel energy early on in chasing them down.
Former GC hopefuls still riding for pride
And it’s good to see. Both Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador had little digs on the yellow jersey group on the final climb as they come to terms with being out of the overall fight, and while neither of them stuck, it’s at least a decent show of intent (and entertaining for us).
The same goes for Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who fell out of contention in the first week, as he rode well to stick around the big boys for so long. He didn’t make any kind of attack, but coming out of such a demoralising week as he suffered with illness, has mechanical failures and lost time by the bucket load, he’s at least showing his climbing prowess that lead many to believe he’d be challenging for the podium again this year.
One Pyreneen stage too many for some
It was a disappointing day for some as the mountains took their toll. Alex Dowsett (Movistar) was the first Brit to abandon the race, as he fell away on the first climb of the day, the category two Col de Portet d’Aspet.
The British time trial champion had suffered a nasty looking elbow injury on last week’s cobble stage, but looked to be working his way back in to the Tour in the following stages, as he guided Quintana safely through the first week.
But a reported stomach bug on Wednesday night put paid to Dowsett’s chances of holding on after finishing third to last on that day’s stage 10 in the mountains, and he quickly pulled the plug on Thursday’s ride.
He wasn’t alone though, as Zak Dempster (Bora-Argon18) called it a day too after being allowed to start the stage despite finishing after the time cut on Wednesday. The Australian was in tears after the effort to make the cut on stage 10, but like Dowsett, the last mountain stage before the peloton hits the transition to the Alps was a bridge too far.
Did you see that rain?
It was the kind of bizarre weather change you can expect in the mountains. At the start of the day, everyone was talking about coping with heat, by the end it the riders were navigating an apocalyptic hail storm.
To be fair, the riders probably enjoyed a bit of cooling rain. Or at least that’s what Sean Kelly assured us of on Eurosport, and who are we to question? It made for some great pictures nonetheless.
Highlights of stage 12 of the 2015 Tour de France