It was a tearful moment for Marc Hirschi as he realised the import of his victory in Stage 12 of the Tour de France. The win completed his set of podium finishes, after ending up 2nd behind Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) on Stage 2 and 3rd on Stage 9 after being caught after a long solo assault in the mountains.
43 kilometres from the finish Sunweb's Tiesj Benoot and Søren Kragh Andersen jumped from the bunch and passed the remnants of an early escape. When Hirschi bridged with several other riders, they played the perfect foil.
After Soler made a probing move from the group, Hirschi immediately countered, showing a clean pair of heels and immediately getting a gap. Hirschi dug deep and carried on over the steep gradients of the Cote de lay Croix du Pey, cresting the climb with 25 kilometres to go, holding a 17-second lead to the two chasers.
Behind Kragh Andersen and Benoot looked to frustrate a bridging Julian Alaphilippe, marking his moves and sitting on the group. For good measure, Nicolas Roche later joined his teammates, all of them refusing to collaborate as the race blew up in the wake of the Swiss rider as he put on another descending masterclass.
Hirschi just kept riding to his own rhythm and with the gap stabilising at around 40 seconds with just five kilometres to go, he and the team were destined for stage success. Entering the final few hundred metres with a smile from cheek-to-cheek, Hirschi raised his arms aloft in celebration to take a truly remarkable team win.
"Unbelievable," Hirschi said after the stage. "Today I had never believed I could make it. I was doubtful. I went full gas.
"My first pro victory and at the Tour, it couldn't be better. It's like a dream. I don't know it's just nice."
Hirschi fuelled himself with the disappointment at his near misses in the earlier stages of the Tour, particularly Stage 9 into Laruns where he had ridden in a solo assault over the mountains for 90 kilometres.
"Laruns gave me a lot of confidence otherwise I never would have attacked on the climb," said Hirschi. "It gives me the extra power, podiuming twice on the road."
Team Sunweb sports director Matt Winston had initially set out a plan for the squad to go for the breakaway, but had to shift their plan mid-race, with BORA-hansgrohe and CCC keen to keep the peloton together for a potential sprint for Peter Sagan and Greg van Avermaet.
"It was a really good performance today by the whole team and everyone fully committed to the plan for the finale," said Winston. "It was great to see them ride with so much confidence in each other.
"We wanted to make it hard on the third category climb, where Søren and Tiesj a brilliant job after some great position by our sprint guys, where they put them into a position where they could attack. Marc then followed across and we had three guys in a group of six.
"We knew it would be tough on the second category climb so Marc made his move there. Nico and Søren were in a group of chasers and they did a fantastic job of just blocking behind, not letting anyone else jump across to Marc, and Marc was able to solo to the finish.
"It was a super team effort. After all our hard work in the stages before, it is really nice victory.”
The 2020 Tour de France continues with Stage 13, a 191km day in the mountains of the Massif Central, from Châtel-Guyon to Puy Mary Cantal. Watch the race on the SBS ŠKODA Tour Tracker and SBS On Demand from 7:40pm AEST, with television coverage starting from 9.30 AEST on SBS HD.