TOUR’18 Stage 12: Thomas Terrific On The Alpe!
Stage Report: Today’s stage promised lots with the biggest elevation gain of this year’s race at just over 5000m for the stage and the finish on the mythical Alpe d’Huez. Could the stage live up to the hype? Sky’s Geraint Thomas certainly must think so.
As the ‘Pezzer’ who has ridden the Alpe d’Huez the most I’ve been called out of stage reporting retirement to report on today’s massive stage to the famous Alpe. Before the riders could even think about the Alpe d’Huez though they had one of my favorite Alpine climbs to do, the Col de la Madeleine. From the side that the peloton had to ride it today it was a massive 25.3km long and a true monster. If you ever get the chance I recommend doing it from the side that they descended today as I wrote about here on Pez a few years ago when I came across the entire Ag2r team out on a training ride.
Speaking of Ag2r they were active in the morning battle to get into the breakaway in the first 30km before the climb but despite the best efforts of numerous riders no break was able to stick.
On the lower slopes of the Madeleine the peloton exploded under the pressure of the early pace with Movistar seeming determined to drive the pace hard in an attempt to isolate the Sky duo of Thomas and Froome. Their tactics were clearly hurting Sky as Luke Rowe and Wout Poels were quickly dropped but things finally calmed down with a big breakaway group going clear that included KOM points chasers in Julian Alaphilippe, Serge Pauwels, Warren Barguil, Rafal Majka and Pierre Rolland. Other notable names in the 25+ large breakaway group were Steven Kruijswijk who started the day in 6th on GC @ 2m40s of Geraint Thomas’ lead, Alejandro Valverde (11th on GC @ 4m28s), Inur Zakarin (13th @ 4m58s) and white jersey holder, Pierre LaTour (20th @ 11m46s).
Although not immediately dangerous to Geraint Thomas the presence of these 4 GC men plus the sheer size of the group led Sky to take control of the race and not let the break take more than 3 minutes lead. Meanwhile up in the break there were many who were not happy with the break being so big and there were numerous attacks throughout the long climb. Nothing stuck though and it was a more or less intact 20+ strong group who crested the Madeleine together with Alaphilippe taking maximum points ahead of Barguil and Pauwels with the recovered Sky duo of Poels and Rowe leading the peloton over 2m45s later.
After the big starting climb of the Madeleine was finished the riders moved on to the scenic switchbacks of the 2nd Category, Lacets de Montvernier and it was Pierre Rolland who was clear alone after escaping the infighting of the still very big breakaway group. Were the big names in the group saving themselves for later or already tired from the hectic start to the stage?
4 minutes back in the peloton it was still Sky leading the chase as the riders approached the next HC climb of the day, the LONG Col de la Croix de Fer – a massive 29km of climbing at 5.2% average. This is a lot of climbing in anyone’s language and it was sure to do some serious damage in both the breakaway and the peloton.
On the lower slopes of the Croix de Fer the break splintered into small pieces and it was the man who was already in the virtual yellow jersey, Steven Kruijswijk who surged clear alone with 20km of climbing remaining and more than 70km in the stage to go – including the finishing climb of the Alpe d’Huez. Could he hold on?
Kruijswijk quickly gained a minute over his former breakaway partners and suddenly his lead over the Sky led peloton reached the 6 minute mark and he was now more than three minutes in the virtual lead. It was a huge gamble by Kruijswijk and a refreshing sight to see a GC outsider take on the race and the might of the Sky train.
Back in the peloton the only action was happening at the back door as the likes of Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates went through it and quietly said goodbye to their GC hopes in this year’s race. In the grupetto the goodbyes were more final though as the abandons started stacking up with the trio of sprinters of Andre Greipel, Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen all abandoning the race.
Big news indeed to lose so many sprinters after Kittel and Cavendish had already missed the time cut yesterday but the real news was happening at the front of the race where Kruisjwijk was doing the ride of his life and holding the full Sky train at a steady 6 minute gap. This was despite the fact that Sky were now pulling very hard. The odds were against Kruisjwijk though with the long descent of the Croix de Fer and the valley in between to Alpe d’Huez surely going to count against him as Froome and Thomas still had their share of domestiques around them to drive the pace in the valley.
Sure enough the valley was difficult but he still managed to arrive at the bottom of the climb with a 4min10s lead over the still Sky led peloton.
It was now time for the moment that everyone had been waiting for, the famous 14km climb of the Alpe d’Huez. By no means the most difficult climb in the Alps it’s still a brutal beast and it has often been the most crucial climb in the Tour de France. After the hot weather, the enormous elevation already done and the tough pace of the stage there were sure to be some casualties in the GC race on the switchbacks of the Alpe.
Half way up the climb and a clearly tiring Kruisjwijk had lost half his lead and the yellow jersey group had lost more than half of their members with just a dozen riders left. It was at this point that Vincenzo Nibali attacked and his move quickly dropped Dan Martin but Sky’s Bernal quickly brought Nibali back and then it was Nairo Quintana’s turn to attack. Quintana looked good but his move was again easily brought back by Bernal who was on a great day working for his two leaders Thomas and Froome.
Kruisjwijk’s lead was now down to only a minute and a half and it was then with 8km remaining that Landa attacked with Romain Bardet in his wheel. The duo quickly got a five second gap but it wasn’t enough for Bardet who hit out alone. Bernal was now done and it was up to Thomas to chase with Chris Froome in his wheel and just Nibali, Dumoulin, Roglic and Landa left remaining in the front group after Quintana was dropped.
Meanwhile Kruisjwijk was slowly dying after his long day out the front and with 4.5kms to go his lead was now less than 30 seconds when total drama occurred back in the Thomas group. Chris Froome had attacked and was catching Bardet when an accident between the motorbikes and Nibali due to the overexcited crowd left Nibali on the ground and the group splintered over the road.
Roglic was dropped, Quintana had been dropped moments earlier, Froome attacked and quickly went by Bardet and Dumoulin took up the chase with Thomas in his wheel.
Bardet wasn’t giving up though and neither was Dumoulin who brought it all back together with the brave Kruisjwijk now caught and dropped the leading GC riders were now down to just four, Froome, Thomas, Bardet and Dumoulin.
With 2km to go Dumoulin put in an attack but he was quickly brought back and then it was almost like a 4 way track sprint as they slowed down to walking pace with 1.5km to go. This pace allowed Landa to make his way back up to the front group and a fired up Nibali who must have been operating on anger and adrenaline after his crash was also closing in fast on the front group.
Nibali couldn’t quite get back on though before the sprint started with Landa trying a flyer but he was quickly caught and disposed by Thomas who was far too quick in the finish to take a huge victory and further cement his lead in the GC. With Sky occupying 1st and 2nd on GC and the gaps growing bigger over the rest of the top 10 can anybody beat the Sky coalition in the stages to come?
Tour de France Stage 12 Result:
1. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky in 5:18:37
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 0:02
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 0:03
4. Chris Froome (GB) Sky
5. Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar at 0:07
6. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo at 0:13
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
8. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 0:42
9. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 0:47
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 0:53
11. Egan Bernal (Col) Sky at 1:41
12. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates at 1:45
13. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors at 3:09
14. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 4:29
15. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin
16. Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:35
17. Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida at 4:37
18. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert at 4:40
19. Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana at 5:41
20. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 6:52
21. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 8:24
22. Simon Geschke (Ger) Sunweb at 8:58
23. Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis at 9:33
24. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott at 9:57
25. Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 10:59.
Tour de France Overall After Stage 12:
1. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky in 49:24:43
2. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 1:39
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 1:50
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 2:37
5. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo at 2:46
6. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 3:07
7. Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar at 3:13
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 3:43
9. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 4:13
10. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates at 5:11
11. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 5:45
12. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 9:07
13. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors at 9:09
14. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 9:37
15. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott 0:15:28
16. Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 16:41
17. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert at 18:39
18. Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana at 20:41
19. Egan Bernal (Col) Sky at 21:22
20. Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic at 23:55
21. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe at 28:38
22. Adam Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott at 34:55
23. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 36:16
24. Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data at 36:35
25. Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida at 36:48.
Chris Selden has been riding and racing his bike around the world for the last 25 years and writing for PEZ for the last 15. Now living in France, a few years ago he did the Alpe d’Huez for Pez in what was a truly classic day out on the bike. If you want to have a hopefully better experience than Chris at the Alpe in France, he also rents a house out for cyclists in the South of France in the beautiful Herault region. You can also follow Chris and his adventures in France on his instagram page.