Vuelta a España champion Simon Yates sprinted to his debut Tour de France victory on stage 12 to give Mitchelton-SCOTT their second win of the race.
The British rider made it into the break of the day before attacking over the top of the final climb in a leading trio and taking the win in a three-up sprint in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The win means that Simon Yates has now won a stage in all three Grand Tours after his victories in the Giro d’Italia (2018) and the Vuelta a España (2016 and 2018).
As expected there was a massive fight to get into the break at the start of the day, with the stage always looking likely to favour the group in front. Numerous attempts came and went in the opening 40-kilometres before a large group of 42-riders were eventually allowed down the road by the peloton.
Mitchelton-SCOTT had both Simon Yates and European Champion Matteo Trentin in the move as the group worked well together to stretch their advantage over the bunch, and the escapees enjoyed a five-minute buffer by the time they hit the foot of the Col de Peyresourde. But the numbers in the 42-man breakaway soon began to fall on the slopes of the climb as Lilian Calmejane (Team Total Direct Energie) attacked solo.
The Frenchman opened up a 40-second lead on the rest of the breakaway, but he was reeled back in over the top, with Simon Clarke (EF Education First) launching a counter move on the descent. The Australian raced into a one-minute lead ahead of the final climb, but as the Hourquette d’Ancizan approached, Trentin set off in pursuit while Simon Yates sat in the chase group behind.
With Trentin beginning to close in on Clarke at the head of the race, Simon Yates attacked the remains of the breakaway on the climb, with only Gregor Mühlberger (BORA – hansgrohe) able to react to the initial dig by the Mitchelton-SCOTT man. The chasers were eventually able to bridge back up to Yates, but as the pace stalled the 26-year-old attacked again, while out front Trentin caught Clarke.
Another attack from Yates was enough to distance the chasing pack, as again only Mühlberger could follow, and the duo raced past Trentin to lead the race over the summit. Pello Bilbao (Astana Pro Team) gave chase on the ascent and the Spaniard was able to join the duo on the descent to make it a leading group of three.
The trio worked well together to extend their advantage over the chasers on the run towards the finish, and the gap stood at over a minute as they hit the outskirts of the city. Yates moved himself into prime position at the back of the group under the one-kilometre to go banner before launching his sprint into the final corner and holding off his rivals at the line to take the win.
Simon Yates: “I’ve been saving energy all the way until we got here in the mountains and this is my first chance to try something. Normally I’ve been back in the peloton helping Adam, but today I had my own chance so I’ve grabbed it with both hands.”
“I wasn’t very confident of beating either of them [in the sprint], I didn’t really know how fast they were, I just knew from the directors in the car, they told I needed to be in the front coming around the last corner, so I made sure to do that and luckily I held on to win.”
“Really my main priority here is to help Adam and today was just one of the chances to get up the road, so we’ll see how we go in the next few days. We’re having a fantastic Tour and long may it continue.”
Matt White (Sports Director): “We expected a big group and a big group with the right combination was going to be very, very hard to get back, especially with so much flat terrain before we got to the mountains.”
“The boys rode well, we had exactly what we wanted, we had someone who could climb to finish off the stage and obviously someone for the flat, for an extra form of protection, because things can get out of control in a break that size. The boys worked well together in the final and we had both bases covered.”
“Nobody wants to take Matteo Trentin down a 30-kilometre descent sitting on and then try and beat him in the sprint. So it gave us options at the front end and in the second group.”
“Simon might be a little guy, but he’s got a turn of speed on him and the other guys, they’re no slouches, but at the end of the day we were pretty confident that when we got into that group of three that he could beat them.”