Peter Sagan is inexhaustible
Having spent all of the previous stage animating the race, first helping forming the day’s break before going on to constantly attack and ultimately finishing second, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) could be forgiven for taking it easy today.
But that’s not how the Slovakian does things. Today, wearing the red number having been awarded the combativity prize for that performance, he was out on the attack yet again, surging off the front with teammate Maciej Bodnar in windy conditions with around 12km to go.
When the pair were joined by the Team Sky duo Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas and opened up a gap of over 20 seconds over the panicking bunch, victory for Sagan looked inevitable - a quartet this strong would take a huge effort to bring back, and Sagan easily had the edge on the others in a sprint finish. As expected, he cruised to victory in the sprint.
Following his Tour of Flanders victory in the Spring and other Tour stage win in Cherbourg, not to mention countless other spectacular performances, 2016 already looks like the best season in Peter Sagan’s career. And once again we find ourselves asking - what exactly is this man’s limit?
Team Sky again on the offensive
Who said Team Sky were boring? Chris Froome followed up his surprise attack on the descent to Luchon four days before with another aggressive move in the crosswinds today, responding to an acceleration by Tinkoff.
Once again he managed to catch out every one of his GC rivals, who found themselves stranded in the peloton while the yellow jersey disappeared up the road.
In fact, the only rider alert to Froome move was teammate Geraint Thomas, who himself put in a heroic effort to drag himself up to his leader’s wheel and help drive home the advantage.
Though the quartet ultimately finished only six seconds ahead of the peloton, the extra six second gained at the line by Froome by sprinting for second ensured that his efforts were rewarded.
Twelve seconds may not seem much in the grand scheme of things but it does mean his rivals continue to drift further away from his lead: 28 seconds now to Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), 31 to Dan Martin (Etixx-Quick Step), 35 to Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Regardless of the long-term impact on GC, the spectacle alone of seeing the yellow and green jersey team up to ignite the race was enough alone to be one of the highlights of this year’s Tour.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage 11 highlights
Cav’s bid for green looks to be over
An unfortunately timed mechanical in the closing stages all but ended Mark Cavendish’s (Dimension Data) chances in the green jersey, especially as the leader in the competition Peter Sagan was up the road winning the stage.
Throughout the race Cavendish has insisted he has no real commitment to competing for the green jersey, believing it inevitable that, however many sprint stages he might win himself, Sagan would still be able to build an unassailable lead through collecting intermediate sprint points via attacks in hillier terrain.
And that’s exactly what happened on stage 10 as Sagan won the intermediate sprint and managed second at the finish line to overtake Cavendish at the top of the classification.
Tellingly, Cavendish’s teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen did not even challenge him at the intermediate sprint - it seemed as though Cavendish and Dimension Data were indeed resigned to having no chance of winning the jersey.
But he appeared to adopt a more positive attitude on stage 11, moving to the front of the bunch to pick up 15 points at the intermediate sprint despite no longer having a green jersey to defend - not the move of a man who had given up.
But then disaster struck with the mechanical, and now he lies 90 points adrift with seemingly only two sprint stages left to make up that advantage. With the Olympics nearing, we may yet see Cavendish pull out of the race altogether.
What could have been a regulation sprinters' stage was exploded into life early on as the Mistral blew and wrought chaos in the bunch.
The threat of strong winds had been talked about heading into the stage and that was exactly what we got, with a cross-tail wind prompting teams to lay down the hammer at the front of the bunch as early as 90km to go.
Tinkoff, Team Sky and BMC Racing were among those to try to break the race apart, and at several points the road was strung out into several echelons, making for spectacular shots on TV.
But all the main GC contenders were alert to the danger and remained in the lead group, with the biggest names to miss out being the weary winner of the previous stage Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange) and polka-dot jersey wearer Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who is already out of contention for the yellow.
It was only when Froome and Sagan made their move towards the end that genuine GC hopefuls were distanced - fifth overnight Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Adam Yates’s main rival for the white jersey Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) both found themselves in a group trailing the chasers, and both lost a whole one minute and nine seconds.
Mont Ventoux peak scrapped
Shortly after the stage finish, it was confirmed that stage 12’s planned finish atop Mont Ventoux has been revised following extreme wind. Instead, the stage will finish 6km earlier at Chalet Reynard.
Though the news will undoubtedly disappoint fans looking forward to finish on one of the Tour’s most famous locations, it still looks set to be a crucial stage - the climb to Chalet Reynard is still over 10km long, and the steeper gradients of Mont Ventoux feature on the first half of the climb anyway.
Perhaps the rider most concerned by its shortening however will be Quintana. Having lost more time on stage 11 and with a time trial to come on stage 13, he’s in real need of gaining some time, and may well have eyed the mammoth ascent to Mont Ventoux as a key chance to do so. Like the rest of us watching at home, he’ll have to make do with the Chalet Reynard.
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