Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) said he felt in really good form on stage 12 of the Tour de France as he returned to what he knows best: chancing his luck in a breakaway that brought him within eight kilometres of his third Tour stage win.
At the finish of stage 12 in Peyragudes, holding the prize for the day’s most aggressive rider, Cummings said he felt proud of his effort and to be wearing the British national champion’s jersey in front of the peloton on what was the 50th anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death.
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The 36-year-old Dimension Data rider was part of a 12-rider break that went clear on the 214.5km stage from Pau to the summit finish in Peyragudes, with the Port de Balès and Col de Peyresourde both climbed in the final 30km of the day. However, despite dropping all his breakaway companions, he was eventually caught by a group of GC favourites with 8.5km to go to the finish line.
“I felt really good,” Cummings said. “Of course [I’ll try again another day].
“It’s nice to get out in front in the jersey, especially today with Tom Simpson and everything,” he continued. “I’m pretty proud of the effort, unfortunately there’s not much I can do if they chase behind, I can’t really control that.”
Watch: Tour de France stage 12 highlights
Before the Tour began Cummings spent almost three months out injured, after he crashed at the Tour of Basque Country and broke his collarbone, scapula and sternum. He faced a race against time to be fit for the Tour, but returned to competition in spectacular form the week before the Düsseldorf Grand Départ, winning both the road race and time trial at the British National Championships to confirm his selection.
Having spent much of the Tour’s opening week and a half at the back of the bunch – where he likes to position himself – Cummings confirmed he had marked stage 12 in his road book as one to target, despite saying he thought it might have been “too hard” for him.
“At the start I thought today was too hard for me to be honest, and it proved it was,” he continued. “In the Tour you can’t be so selective, you might say this is the day, this is the day and you might miss the break.
“Today I got in the break and once you’re there you commit to it. I think there was a chance to win at Port de Balès. It was a chance, so you go full for it until the moment you can’t do it.
“It’s not black and white, there’s grey. There are some stages you can say no I can’t do that, but there are ones like today where it’s a bit grey – maybe if I have a good day and the right combination you can do it.”
The breakaway group began to splinter and on the Port de Balès with 30km to go, with Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas de Gendt accelerating and upping the pace.
Despite initially being distanced by De Gendt, Cummings was the only rider who was able to follow him before he eventually dropped the Belgian and continued solo towards the line. However, he had a gap of just two minutes at the bottom of the Col de Peyresourde, which didn’t prove enough to keep the chasing GC riders at bay.
“The Col de Peyresourde is 12km and there’s no need to panic, and we had another climb after that. Just be calm and some days you’ve got good legs and some days you haven’t,” Cummings continued.
“Some guys were attacking at the bottom of Port de Balès and where are you going to go at 600 watts, you can’t do that for half and hour.”
Having won stages from breakaways at the 2015 and 2016 Tours, it seems everyone has been waiting for the Wirral-born rider to do the same again this year. Indeed, when it was confirmed Cummings was among those in the breakaway, there was an expectation of what he could possibly do. Yet Cummings refuted the fact he has any extra pressure on his shoulders these days.
“The only pressure is to do my best, I don’t feel pressure,” he said. “People look at me more but if you use your head and you’re smart and you’re strong it doesn’t really matter.”