Why the sprinters' teams didn't chase the Stage 12 breakaway

It was a rarity at the Tour de France, a flat stage without a bunch sprint finish as the peloton opted to save their strength for future stages.

Nils Politt (BORA-hansgrohe) emerged triumphant on a day where everyone wanted to see if Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep would be able to match the stage-winning record of 34 victories set by Eddy Merckx.

A hard, fast start to the stage saw seemingly everyone keen to get into the early move, with echelons forming in the wind as the battle to make the move intensified. A day after being one of the last men dropped in the breakaway, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was active in the skirmishing to get in the move, sending a signal loud and clear to the rest of the peloton that the powerhouse Belgian team didn't want to ride all day for a sprint finish.

Once you take Deceuninck-QuickStep away, there are precious few squads who would have enough strength and will to chase a committed breakaway.


Arkea-Samsic may have been keen with their sprinter Nacer Bouhanni showing promise, but he looked to be hurting after being the second-last rider to finish the previous stage.  

The same could be said for Wout van Aert and Jumbo-Visma but in reverse after the mammoth effort over the mountains for the Belgian all-rounder. They are also down to just five riders and have other priorities to balance with Jonas Vingegaard currently sitting third overall.

Jasper Philipsen is one of the form sprinters but his Alpecin-Fenix team have been depleted as well and are down to just six riders. 

BORA-hansgrohe's sprint star Peter Sagan, abandoned the race before the start of the stage.

All those teams were sure to put on of their better riders in the breakaway as well, Alpecin-Fenix did miss out and Jumbo-Visma also didn't have a rider in the move, but they were likely wary of potential crosswinds later in the race and wanted to protect Vingegaard.

After those teams, the sprinters are probably not quite competitive enough to count on winning a flat sprint, especially if it involves depleting the resources available for them in the final. It would be different if Caleb Ewan or Arnaud Demare were still in the race, with the Lotto Soudal and Groupama-FDJ squads very focused on getting them chances for wins and dragging any dangerous moves back at the start.

Cavendish summed it up well after the stage as he described his role in the action.

“I was quite happy for it actually,' said Cavendish. "That could have been so hard. I was there when the break was going, Andre was there, but none of the other sprinters.

"I knew that if I was in there it wasn’t going, so I let it go. I’m not saying I made the break happen, but Julian (Alaphilippe) had gone and it’s better that we guarantee that he’s away that do a full day’s chasing. Not a clue what happened but I bet he was showing some panache."

"It’s heavy roads once you’re in the Provence region, it was better when we got here. Everyone was stuck to the road. I was quite happy it wasn’t the carnage we anticipated with all the wind.

The question now will be whether a similar situation unfolds on the roads to Carcassonne. The medieval-styled town has never seen a mass bunch sprint finish in its time hosted the Tour de France, and despite the flat terrain of the stage tomorrow, that trend may yet continue. Especially if Cavendish's team doesn't chase which seems a possibility after post-race interviewer Seb Piquet pushed Cavendish for an answer on what will happen tomorrow.

“I’m tired now, Seb," said Cavendish. "I’m just happy there everyone’s safe and well in the last week of the Tour de France.”

So same big battle for the break again tomorrow and a potential attacker for the win? Seems that way. If teams don't want to control a 159-kilometre stage, why commit to a 220-kilometre slog?

The Tour de France will continue with Stage 13, a 220 kilometre stage from Nîmes to the medieval town of Carcassonne. Watch from 2030 AEST on SBS, SBS OnDemand, with the race coverage starting on the SKODA Tour Tracker from 1955 AEST.

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4 min read
Published 9 July 2021 at 3:26am
By Jamie Finch-Penninger