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TOUR’15 St.12: Rodriguez Roars On Plateau de Beille

Race Report: Joaquim Rodriguez flew away from his breakaway companions on the final climb of Plateau de Beille after spending the whole day in the break. He took off from a group of Jakob Fuglsang and Romain Bardet and stormed up the second half of the climb to win by a comfortable margin. Behind; the rain seemed to dampen the ambition of Quintana who was unable to launch a sustained attack on Froome, who was expertly protected by Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte.

We’re in the Hautes-Pyrenees and the Ariege today which means climbing, and plenty of it. The one bone thrown to the sprinters is the fact that the intermediate sprint comes after 20km and before any climbs which means it may prove to be quite an important day for the green jersey. After that it’s time for the mountain men to take over. We have four climbs, three ranked 1st category or Hors-Categories, the first is the Col de Portet-d’Aspet (4.3km at 9.7%) which is most famous for the tragic death of Fabio Casartelli 20 years ago, the Tour returns to pay their respects to the Olympic champion. After that we have the Col de la Core (14.1km at 5.7%) the Port de Lers (12.9km at 6%) and the finish on the impossibly difficult HC Plateau de Beille (15.8km at 7.9%). Unusually for a stage which has 4 long climbs on it there’s quite a lot of flat today which means it isn’t conducive to a long range attack from Quintana or Contador.


Into the Oven
The race set out into the extreme heat that had characterised the last two days in the Pyrenees. As expected, Lotto Soudal moved to the front of the peloton to keep the race together until the intermediate sprint. André Greipel repaid his team’s belief and won the sprint beating John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) into second and third.

After the sprinters had done their work for the day it was time for the breakaway riders to take over. The break formed slowly with groups of 3 and 4 merging together but soon we had a huge break of 19 riders. They were; Michal Kwaitkowski (Etixx – Quick-Step), Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka), Lieuwe Westra, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Christophe Riblon, Mikael Cherel, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Georg Priedler (Giant-Alpecin) Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Sylvain Chavanel, Jerome Coppel (IAM Cycling), Romain Sicard, Bryan Coquard (Europcar), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matthieu Ladagnous, Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr) and Anthony Delaplace, Frederic Brun (Bretagne-Seche). Behind them Cannondale-Garmin had missed the break and set out to close the gap however they soon gave up when their deficit reached 4 minutes.

The gap continued to stretch out to 6 minutes but Sky were deployed and so it fell to 5.30 where it stayed until the summit of the Portet d’Aspet. There were worrying signs back in the peloton for Alex Dowsett (Movistar) and Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis) who were already hanging off the back on the lower slopes of the climb.

There were happier times in the break who had crossed the first climb led by Georg Priedler and they headed towards the second climb with an increased advantage of 6:30.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 12
The big break of the day

The Pace Starts to Show
The breakaway riders had been happy to accept some passengers for the early part of the stage but as the race hit the climb of the Col de la Core, Lieuwe Westra pressed on an immediately distanced six riders; Coquard, Kwiatkowski, Ladagnous, Roy, Brun and perhaps most surprisingly, Riblon.

Many of those riders were able to get back into the group but as soon as they had, the storm clouds that had been brewing burst and the rain started coming down. It was going to be pleasant relief on the climbs but with a number of technical descents to come it was only going to increase the nervousness in the peloton.

In the battle for the polka dot jersey, Durasek went away from the break to claim maximum points ahead of Priedler.

Back in the pack Cavendish (Etixx – Quick-Step) was dangling off the back along with Mark Renshaw and with the two hardest climbs still to come it was going to be a long day for the Manx sprinter. Worse news had come through about Dowsett and Zak Dempster (Bora-Argon 18) who had both abandoned.

On the descent of the Col de la Core the break had pushed on and were now striding towards the 10 minute mark. We still had the majority of the stage to go and the hardest climbs left to ride but it was looking like the stage winner would come from the front group. Three riders who were intent on pressing on were Vanmarcke, Priedler and Kwiatkowski who clipped off the front and soon built up a minute gap. Behind the trio, Astana and Ag2r had missed out and set about closing them down on the slopes of the Lers.

Uran Unhitched
After being the surprise performer of the opening week, Rigoberto Uran (Etixx – Quick-Step) was once again losing ground on the climbs. This was very surprising given the lack of pace at the front of the peloton. In the break Priedler, who looked like the strongest rider ahead, had been dropped by Kwiatkowski and Vanmarcke. The Austrian was heading back towards Bardet, Meintjes and Fuglsang who had broken clear of the remaining breakaway riders and were eating up the gap to the head of the race.

As we neared the top of the Lers the chasers had been increased with the addition of Rodriguez, Izagirre and Cherel but they were still not able to catch the leading duo. Kwiatkowski took maximum points over the climb with the classics rider, Varmarcke, barely able to cling to the Polish rider’s wheel. In the peloton Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) were drifting back off the tail of the peloton.

Up ahead the surprise leaders were eeking out more of a lead on the final descent. The roads were wet though and the chasing group were struck a blow when the young South African Meintjes crashed on a wet corner. He was soon back up and into the pursuit group. The Sky led peloton were taking no chances on the descent and the gap to the break was now pushing out again to 10 minutes.

Out of the Frying Pan into the Water
The heat of the last few days had led to a major cloud system which was now bursting over the riders. The breakaway were busy getting soaked as they headed through the very pretty town of Tarrascon Ariege, I camped on a flood bank in the town during the 2013 Tour and was warned off by no fewer than 5 village elders. Despite their warnings I stayed the night and woke up the next morning still above water. The two leaders were taking advantage of the flat run in to the Plateau de Beille and had extended their advantage to 2 minutes over a chase group that had now swelled with the edition of Barta and Sicard.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 12
It was good to see the World champ out front

The final climb began with Kwiatkowski overtaking his Dutch breakaway companion and leading him up the climb. The chase group seemed content to keep the break under 2 minutes and set about catching them on the climb. Vanmarcke was suffering early into the climb and he was finally broken by a Kwiatkowski acceleration after 2km. The chase was being led by Cherel who was riding for his team leader, Bardet. Behind them, the new additions, Barta and Sicard were beginning to drift back. The Ag2r led chase was finally starting to impact on Kwiatkowski and he was no dangling less than a minute ahead.

The cream of the chase had ridden to the front and Rodriguez, Bardet, Fuglsang and Meintjes went clear in pursuit of Kwiwatkowski. Purito upped the tempo and Meintjes was the first rider to fall away, obviously still suffering from the effects of the earlier crash. As the Polish leader passed under the 10km barrier his lead was 39 seconds, significantly less than at the start of the climb.

Tinkoff-Saxo to the Fore
The main peloton was being led by Tinkoff-Saxo and their increased pace was starting to hurt the group. Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Matthias Frank (IAM Cycling) were the first big names to lose contact and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) was yo-yoing off the back.

With 8km to go Rodriguez jumped away from his break companions, Fuglsang reacted and dropped Bardet who had looked in trouble since he went away on the finishing climb. The World Champion had gone as far as he could and was now falling back through the remaining breakaway riders as Rodriguez was kicking for home.
After Tinkoff had done the pacemaking, Contador jumped off the front but Richie Porte was able to haul him back after the brief foray. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) immediately responded but he was brought back by a Valverde attack after a kilometer in the lead. Valverde went again but again he was brought back by the Porte led Sky train.

Up ahead Rodriguez was moving towards a minute lead of his nearest challenger, Fuglsang. Barring major incident he was going to win the stage. The excitement was behind though and Quintana hit the front and immediately cracked Porte however Geraint Thomas was strong enough to bring him back.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 12
Nairo Quintana gave it a go a couple of times, but Froome’s Sky men pulled him back

With 5km to go Froome attacked from the group but was immediately reeled in by Quintana and then Contador, Valverde and Van Garderen. It seemed to be a false move by the Kenyan born rider as he now left himself isolated to attacks from the duo of Valverde and Quintana. The attacks didn’t stick and as the pace eased off Geraint Thomas was able to ride back up to the front.

Although there was still action in the group of the leaders, the time gap meant that Joaquin Rodriguez was riding solo to the line to take his second stage win of the race after a marvellous day long breakaway effort. He was trailed in by Fuglsang and Bardet.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 12
Purito hammered through the hail for the win

The presence of Thomas put an end to any attacking ambition from the group of favourites who were content to ride in behind the Sky train. Valverde took flight in the final 500m but he was only able to gain 1 second on the yellow jersey.

In the end it was a day that had promised much but the presence of the two strongest domestiques in the race, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, meant that none of the main contenders were able to get any serious gap. Attention will now focus on the Alps but Froome’s rivals will need to look to hurt the Sky team before they can hope to put time into the yellow jersey. After today you wonder how much appetite there is to do that.

Loads more from the Tour to come, keep it tuned to PEZ.

Tour de France Stage 12 Result:
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha in 5:40:14
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 1:12
3. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 1:49
4. Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Movistar at 4:34
5. Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka at 4:38
6. Jan Barta (Cze) Bora-Argon 18 at 5:47
7. Romain Sicard (Fra) Europcar at 6:03
8. Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 6:28
9. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 6:46
10. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky at 6:47
11. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
12. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr
13. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC
14. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo
15. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar
16. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana
17. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky
18. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 7:44
19. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek
20. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC at 9:13
21. Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Garmin at 9:46
22. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
23. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin
24. Mathias Frank (Swi) IAM Cycling
25. Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Bretagne-Séché Environnement.

Tour de France Overall After Stage 12:
1. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky in 46:50:32
2. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 2:52
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 3:09
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 3:58
5. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky at 4:03
6. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 4:04
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 5:32
8. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal at 7:32
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 7:47
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek at 8:02
11. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin at 9:43
12. Mathias Frank (Swi) IAM Cycling at 12:25
13. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC at 12:53
14. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 13:33
15. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 13:45
16. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 13:57
17. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 17:05
18. Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Garmin at 19:32
19. Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Movistar at 26:57
20. Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Bretagne-Séché Environnement at 28:19
21. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 28:36
22. Daniel Martin (Irl) Cannondale-Garmin at 33:00
23. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff-Saxo at 33:19
24. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 34:41
25. Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo at 34:48.

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