Marc Hirschi makes up for earlier near-misses
The nearly-man of the 2020 Tour de France at last got his day at the top of the podium, as Marc Hirschi exorcised the disappointments of his earlier near misses with a stage victory.
The young Swiss rider was denied victory in devastating circumstances four days ago in the Pyrenees, after his huge long-range solo attack was cruelly reeled in just a couple of kilometres from the line, having before that also finished second on stage two behind Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
Undiscouraged from these experiences, Hirschi put in another swashbuckling attack today. This time, to the cheers of panache-loving cycling fans around the world, his efforts were rewarded with what isn’t just the biggest win of his career, but his first win altogether at WorldTour-level.
The 22-year-old has been one of the revelations of the race, and it’s hard not to love his commitment to attacking racing.
Having picked up the maximum five points in the king of the mountains competition over the day’s final summit, he now moves up to third in that classification, and is climbing well enough to peruse the polka-dot jersey during the second half of the race. Watch this space.
Sunweb’s teamwork rewarded with stage win
Heading into the Tour, Team Sunweb’s prospects did not look good. Without their star-man Michael Matthews — whose future departure to Mitchelton-Scott probably had a lot to do with why he wasn’t selected — it was difficult to see who would be the rider to take stage victories.
But in the absence of Matthews, the squad’s youthful contingent has stepped up. Their lead-out train has been among the best in the sprints, helping 25-year-old Cees Bol to a couple of top-three finishes, while Marc Hirschi, as discussed above, has been one of the revelations of the Tour.
Today they demonstrated what a harmonious unit they are at the moment, with some excellent teamwork helping set up Hirschi’s win. On the penultimate climb, the category three Côte de Saint-Martin-Terressus, Tiesj Benoot and Søren Kragh Anderson were the first to attack from the peloton, the team’s first move in a race that would eventually see Hirschi take victory.
Their approach on this climb was democratic. No rider had been elected as the sole protected rider, as instead the team strove to get as many riders up the road as possible, with Hirschi and Nicolas Roche also forming part of the counters that formed behind.
Benoot and Kragh Andersen might eventually have been caught by a handful of other escapees but on the final climb of the day it was Hirschi who proved the strongest, launching an attack that no-one could follow.
With his team-mates frustrating the other chasers in the group behind by getting in the way and refusing to take turns, Hirschi was able to finish off their good work, delivering Sunweb a thoroughly deserved stage win.
Sagan tries in vain to make ground on Bennett
Peter Sagan is not giving up on the green jersey without a fight.
After being relegated from yesterday’s sprint, and falling well behind Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) in the points classification as a result, the Slovak was determined to begin reducing the 68-point deficit right away, by whatever means possible.
When his attempts to get into the breakaway at the start of the day were scuppered by an attentive Deceuninck-Quick-Step, he set his Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates to the front of the peloton, with the apparent intention of bringing back the six-man breakaway that formed, and putting himself in contention for points at the finish.
Given all the climbing in the finale, it was an ambitious plan, but one that had a promising start when the break was caught, Bennett was dropped while Sagan remained in the group.
The problem was that, with most of the other sprinters dropped too, other teams’ strategies reverted to attacking on the climbs in pursuit of a stage win. The situation became impossible to control, and the majority of the points at the finish line were ultimately swept up by attackers who managed to escape up the road on the late climbs, while Sagan himself struggled to hang on to the back of the peloton.
He did at least manage to make it back to the peloton, and won the bunch sprint at the finish. Unfortunately, that sprint was only for 13th place, and only gained him an extra four points — half of which he’d already lost to Bennett at the intermediate sprint earlier in the day.
It was an admirable effort by the defending champion, and a sign that he’s not willing to give up winning green yet, but after today he faces a huge task to do so.
A well-balanced route makes for an exciting stage
Stage 12 was one of those fascinating days that are neither for the sprinters, nor for the climbers, but for something in between.
Usually it’s the kind of day where you expect a breakaway to make it up the road and contest for victory, but Bora-Hansgrohe commitment at the front of the peloton ensured that did not happen, catching all the breakaway riders on the Côte de Saint-Martin-Terressus.
That set up a fascinating, unpredictable finale, with dozens of riders sensing that the much-desired prize of a Tour de France stage win was up for grabs. With the final climb of the Suc au May too difficult for the sprinters to survive, but not difficult enough to coax the GC riders into attacking, a whole host of classy rouleurs and puncheurs spent the final 45km of the stage attacking each other.
There might not have been a GC battle or a thrilling final sprint, but it’s stages like this that give the race crucial variety, and that helps make the Tour de France such a special event.
Julian Alaphilippe doesn’t look at his best
Today’s parcours might have looked tailor-made for Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), especially now he’s chasing stages rather than going for GC, but the French favourite did not look at his best today.
That didn’t stop him from having a go though. He was one of the many riders to attack on the Côte de Saint-Martin-Terressus, using his team-mate Dries Devenyns to help launch him.
Usually you’d expect Alaphilippe to go clear with one of those attacks, just as he did in Nice last week to win stage two, but this time he failed to gain any advantage…
Alaphilippe continued to attack on the descent, and did help bring back the duo of Marc Soler (Movistar) and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) who had earlier been dropped by Hirschi. But it was clear that the Swiss rider was on a flyer up the road, while Alaphilippe and the other chasers were failing to work together to bring him back.
A frustrating day took another turn for the worse when he suffered some sort of problem with his bike in the final few kilometres, leaving him alone to roll the line adrift from the rest of the breakaway, finishing in 11th place.
There’s still plenty of time left in this Tour de France, but his form will have to improve if he’s to add another stage win.