Stage 13 analysis: never two without three

André Greipel won his third stage of the 2012 Tour, surviving a complicated finale to beat Peter Sagan by inches.

Words by Richard Moore in Le Cap d’Agde

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Saturday July 14, 2012

Cadel Evans seems determined to go down with a fight at this Tour de France. That is one interpretation of his actions, anyway, because his aggression on the road to Cap d’Agde on Saturday, which followed his attack on the Col du Glandon on Thursday, seems designed to show his fighting qualities rather than ability to win the race.

Bradley Wiggins admitted at Thursday’s finish that Evans had “shown balls” to attack with more than 50 kilometres, and two climbs, remaining. On Saturday it was his team, BMC, that puffed out its collective chest as the peloton raced along the shores of the Mediterranean and began to be buffeted by strong crosswinds.

Panic ensued, the peloton began to stretch and snap, but this was never a tactic that was likely to isolate Wiggins, who remained cool and unruffled at the head of affairs, always surrounded by Sky teammates.

Evans tried again on the vicious, steep climb up Mont Saint-Clair, which they tackled after a frantic dash through the town of Sète, 25 kilometres from the finish. A small gap opened to Wiggins, but the Englishman didn’t panic, just as he didn’t panic on the Col du Glandon. Instead, he maintained his metronomic tempo and gradually reeled him in.

In the end, Evans sent out a message that he isn’t finished and will carry on fighting, and Wiggins responded with his own message, that he is equal to the Australian’s challenge. Like music played at the same volume, they cancelled each other out.

These skirmishes – Wiggins later batted away the suggestion that Evans’ acceleration on the climb amounted to an attack, claiming he thought he was just seeking safety at the front – added some drama to a day that, on paper, promised much, but which in the end proved quite meaningless. The crosswinds and climb might have been more purposefully exploited if the stage had come in the first week, before the first mountains; or it might have provided a shake-up if Sky didn’t appear to have such a stranglehold on the race, making the chances of putting Wiggins in danger as slim as a Schleck brother.

And so, in the end, it was a sprinters’ stage, minus Mark Cavendish and one or two others, including Matt Goss, whose hopes of taking the green jersey from Peter Sagan must now rest on the young Slovakian abandoning in the Pyrenees. That seems unlikely, and André Greipel is now the Liquigas rider’s closest challenger.

It was on the run-in to the finish in Cap d’Agde that the real damage was done by Greipel’s Lotto team, buoyed by the absence from the front group of the world champion. Indeed, it was perhaps significant for the Olympic road race, following fourteen days later, that Greipel held on up the climb while Cavendish slid out the back.

In attempting to ensure that he and other sprinters didn’t get back on, Lotto turned the screw, pulling a compact lead group of 45 riders some eight minutes clear of the Cavendish group.

But in their determination to distance Cavendish they seemed to misjudge their effort, disappearing from the front in the final few kilometres, after everyone’s favourite pantomime villain, Alexandre Vinokourov, who had escaped with Michael Albasini, had been caught.

Yet Greipel, who in the past has been foiled on technical finishes, was still up there, sitting behind Edvald Boasson Hagen, with Peter Sagan behind Greipel. Wiggins became lead-out man in the final kilometre, sweeping up Luis Leon Sanchez, and setting up Boasson Hagen, but Greipel emerged to take his third stage win.

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