Thursday September 10, Stage 12: Chauvigny to Sarran (218km)
At a whopping 218km, today was the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France.
Taking in four categorised climbs in the second half of the stage, we knew today’s route could suit either a large early breakaway group staying clear to the finish or a late attack from the GC contenders on the last mountain.
After our pre-stage meeting on the bus this morning, my Sunweb team-mates and I went into the stage with a plan for both.
When an early six-man escape group went away we had nobody in it but we could see that the Bora-Hansgrohe team wanted to keep them on a short leash.
When they only got a maximum lead of around two-and-a-half minutes, we knew we’d be seeing them again before the finish so our focus shifted to the latter half of the stage.
Still a bit the worse for wear after my crash two days ago, I spent the early part of the stage in the back half of the bunch trying to loosen up and see how the legs were. As we got closer to the penultimate climb though, we all reminded each other on the radio about being aggressive and ready for the climb so I moved nearer the front to try and give the guys a hand.
I knew the guys were going to try and I wanted to be ready just in case I could follow a move or something.
With the last two escapees dangling 25 seconds ahead, Tiesj (Benoot) and Soren (Kragh Andersen) were the first to go clear 3km from the top of the fourth-category Cote de la Crouz du Pey with around 40km to go.
By the top they had been joined by Marc Soler of Movistar while our young Swiss rider Marc Hirschi followed three more across to them and suddenly we had three riders up front in a group of six going over the top.
With the GC guys not reacting, the counter-attacks began and I was sitting near the front of the bunch when five or six guys went after them so I jumped on the back of that group.
As Marc went clear on his own near the top of the second-category Suc du May, with about 20km to go, my group merged with Tiesj and Soren’s and then split again into a 12-strong chase group.
With Marc holding 20 seconds on the climb, Soren and I found ourselves in group behind him trying to cover the counter-attacks.
When you’re in a position like that, with a rider out front alone, there are always going to be others trying to get across. Our job was to jump on anything that moved and shut it down as quickly as possible and when we got to the front of the group we stopped riding. This usually results in a lot of stop-start chasing, and every time the chase group slows down, the leader opens the gap. This of course, is easier said than done.
With 15km to go Marc had 30 seconds as I tried to get across to an attack from Julian Alaphilippe. About 4km later the gap was 38 seconds but Pierre Rolland had gone off the front of our chase group and I was struggling to bring him back.
Between Alaphilippe and Pierre Rolland, Soren and I had our work cut out for us today.
With 8km to go, Marc was still clear as I tried to close down another move by Rolland. When I got up to him, Alaphilippe countered with 5km to go and it took me a little bit longer to shut him down
In the last few kilometres my legs were gone and when Rolland jumped off the front again with 1.6km remaining, I could do nothing. I knew Soren had a better sprint than me though so I tried to keep our group together that so he could save his legs for the sprint for third.
Marc did a fantastic ride to win the stage by 47 seconds with Soren taking third while I finished 10th.
I was looking for Marc to give him a hug at the finish but he’d already been whisked away to do press and go to the podium.
By the time I got to the team bus I was so shattered I had to be helped up into it, but the pain today was worth it. I didn’t win but my teammate won and I still got that adrenalin buzz from the tactics and the racing.
Today we rode really well as a team. We had a full train going into the climb, everyone was committed to putting the climbers in position. The team spirit here is really high. Today was one of those days where I really enjoyed the race.
I can’t wait to see Marc now and celebrate with a glass of champagne this evening.