Germany’s Nils Politt gave his Bora-Hansgrohe team something to smile about following the withdrawal of Peter Sagan by soloing to victory in Nîmescan, on Thursday. Politt picked the pockets of his fellow escapees after proving to be the strongest of a 13-man break in Stage 13 to win a maiden Tour de France stage in style.
“Today Nils Politt has ridden like the wind – the next big thing in German cycling,” announced Rob Hatch on Eurosport commentary as Bora-Hansgrohe bounced back from losing their star rider Peter Sagan to a knee injury.
From a breakaway that included the world champion Julian Alaphilippe and fast finishers Andre Greipel, Edward Theuns and Luka Mezgec, Germany’s Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) played his cards right by attacking early to ensure Stage 12 did not come down to a sprint.
After blustery winds played early havoc and made for a hectic opening half-hour, the 27-year-old German got into a strong 13-man break that established a maximum lead of 16 minutes over the peloton.
Politt then went clear with fellow powerhouses Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal) and Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) with 40km remaining of the 159.5km stage through the breathtakingly beautiful Ardèche region of southern France. The rangy rouleur proceeded to ride his rivals off his wheel with just under 10km remaining – never looking back as he time trialled himself to a maiden Tour win in his fifth appearance.
The German was able to savour the biggest win of his career in front of the crowds at Nîmes before lifting his bike over his head in celebration after a fist pump in the finish zone with the Australian Sweeny, who was pipped for second place by Erviti, the veteran Spaniard.
Switzerland’s Kung, who hit the wall on an uncategorised climb just ahead of Politt’s decisive attack, held on for fourth place before the remnants of the break came home with Mezgec (Team BikeExchange) pipping Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) in what could have been the sprint finish had Politt not taken the bull by the horns with his aggressive riding in the finale.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) led the peloton home just under 16 minutes in arrears to add three points to his green jersey tally on a day he was deprived of the chance to equal Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour stage wins.
A day of GC stalemate saw Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) easily defend his yellow jersey and retain his large cushion of 5’18” over Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo).
Windy conditions at the start, however, did threaten to cause a little havoc – and it looked like it could be a day of red alert for Pogacar when two echelons formed off the back after the peloton broke up shortly after the start at Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
The peloton regrouped after a strong baker’s dozen went clear after an opening 20km that was ridden at a frantic 50kmph. The presence of world champion Alaphilippe took the pressure off Deceuninck-QuickStep to lead the chase in a bid to set Cavendish for the 34th win he needs to draw level with Eddy Merckx’s record.
If Cavendish foregoing his usual green skinsuit was a sign that Merckx could sleep soundly for at least another day, then the growing advantage of the break soon ensured as much as the gap swelled above the 10-minute mark as the race skirted the picturesque Gorges de l’Ardèche.
But that didn’t rule out a sprint of sorts at the finish – especially with the likes of Greipel, Theuns, Mezgec and Alaphilippe in a breakaway that also included Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic), Brent Van Moer (both Lotto Soudal), Sergio Henao (Qhubeka-NextHash) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team TotalEnergies), as well as Politt, Kung, Erviti and Sweeny.
Mindful of the need to ditch the fast men, Politt was at the forefront of the breakaway’s every activity – the German cresting the summit of the only categorised climb in pole position, as well as winning the intermediate sprint.
And it was Politt who pushed on with Britain’s Swift with 50km remaining on a leg-stretching move which set the tempo for what was to follow. After the break came back together, Politt rode clear with Kung, Erviti and Sweeny – the four riders you’d least expect to be a factor in a sprint – with 40km remaining.
It was a brave move but one which paid off when it rapidly became apparent that there was no cohesion in the chase group, with the gap gradually growing as the leading quartet closed in on Nîmes. If debutant Sweeny looked the strongest, Politt was able to respond after the Australian’s attack inside the final 15km sent Kung into the red.
Erviti, the 37-year-old Spaniard riding his 26th Grand Tour, bridged over but neither he nor Sweeny had the answer when Politt surged clear with just over 10km remaining – a textbook attack that saw him ease the pressure on Bora-Hansgrohe and deliver him to the biggest victory of his career.
After the remnants of the break arrived in dribs and drabs, it was Cavendish who ensured he got something – however small – from the day by outkicking Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) to take 14th place and lead the peloton home. This saw him extend his lead by a single point over the Australian in the green jersey standings.
Cavendish will have another chance at drawing level with Merckx on Friday’s Stage 13 – a 220km schlep from Nîmes to Carcassonne which could just as easily culminate in a bunch sprint as a repeat of the breakaway going the distance.
The Tour de France race can be live-streamed in India on Eurosport as it joined hands with the Global Cycling Network to broadcast the entire race. Viewers can alternatively use VPNs to live stream the race on other streaming platforms and online network TVs.
Also read | Tour De France 2021: Wout Van Aert claims historic Ventoux victory in stage 11
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