Tour de France stage 12: The stage that could not be controlled

Jumbo-Visma find the yellow jersey cut off from much of his team on the climbs of central France

Jonas Vingegaard on stage 12 of the 2023 Tour de France
Jonas Vingegaard on stage 12 of the 2023 Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele / Getty)

For nearly an hour during the Tour de France’s second chaotic stage of the week, it looked like yellow jersey holders Jumbo-Visma were coming unstuck.

Memories of the chaos caused by the cobbles of 2022 came flooding back. Only this time it was the hills of central France. 

Race leader Jonas Vingegaard’s key lieutenant Sepp Kuss, sitting tenth overall, was caught behind a split in the peloton and the gap went out. Meanwhile, the team had riders in the break and was stretched and exposed in the peloton.

“I think that on one of the first descents there was a big split because of a crash,” said a visibly relieved Kuss at the finish. “I was there with Dylan [van Baarle] and Nathan [van Hooydonck] and I just I couldn't bridge across on the last kicker. So I was in the second peloton for a while.”

This hadn’t exactly been the plan at the start of stage 12, which featured five categorised climbs on the way from Roanne to Belleville-en-Beaujolais. Though it’s not clear how much of a plan there was.

When asked what the plan was, Jumbo Visma sports director Fran Maassen was curt. “To keep yellow.”

When pressed he put a bigger premium on being responsive than having war-gamed every scenario. “It depends on the other teams,” he said. “We had to keep an open view of course. 

“Stages like this are really difficult, therefore we decided to try to go in the break, which was not so easy because there was a lot of teams that  didn't want us to be in the break, I think.”

At one point Wout van Aert was among those Jumbo riders trying to go clear but it was Tiesj Benoot who would end up in the winning move and ultimately contesting the stage. 

In the peloton was Vingegaard. “We had one guy in front so when UAE would attack on the last climb we would have one guy to help Jonas,” Maassen said.

It is perhaps surprising that UAE Emirates and their leader Tadej Pogačar didn’t take that opportunity, slim as it was, to press Vingegaard when he was more isolated, so willing was the squad to up the pace at any available opportunity in the first week.

It’s a risk Jumbo are keenly aware of. “You never know [what Pogačar is going to do],” said Kuss. “I mean, every stage is an opportunity, especially stages like this when at times there's not as many of us with Jonas, it’s not ideal. When the other teams see that they can take advantage of it, especially on stages like this that are a bit more out of control.”

Kuss seemed unconcerned that these circumstances would repeat themselves trotting out the well worn, and largely correct, mantra that Jumbo has a “strong team of guys” around the yellow jersey. 

Was Vingegaard better at handling difficult situation than he had been in the past, the American was asked? “I think most of all he has the experience and trust with all the guys on this team, just from all the races he has done with us. That’s the most important thing, staying calm and trusting your team-mates.”

You couldn’t help but sense he’ll have to be as the Alps begin tomorrow and his rivals likely won’t miss another opportunity to profit from chaos.

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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.