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Mark Cavendish’s record-equalling bid at Tour de France on hold after Nils Politt solos away to stage win

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Nils Politt – Mark Cavendish’s record-equalling bid at Tour de France on hold after Nils Politt solos away to stage win – REUTERS

Politt lands the biggest win of his career after a solo attack

Cavendish beats Matthews to extend lead in points

Pogacar finishes safely in the bunch to keep yellow

It was billed as one of four potential sprint stages remaining for Mark Cavendish at this year’s Tour de France. But in the end-stage 11 from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Nîmes on Thursday was absolutely miles from ending in a bunch sprint. Cavendish’s attempt at Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage record is going to have to wait one more day at least.

The Manx rider may get another crack on Friday, but that is far from a given with a very long (220kms) hot day in the offing from Nîmes to Carcassonne, and not many teams prepared to help Deceuninck-QuickStep control things.

Increasingly, that looks as if it could be Cavendish’s biggest problem. With so many sprinters having either crashed out, abandoned, or missed the time cut, and Deceuninck-QuickStep having by far the strongest lead-out and sprinter combination, there are very few rival teams prepared to lend them a hand on these flatter days.

The writing was on the wall from early on Thursday. An influential group got away early in proceedings, with QuickStep deciding to put Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) in it rather than try to bring it back.

Mark Cavendish

In the end, it was German rider Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) who claimed the first Tour stage victory of his career, riding Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and Harrison Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal) off his wheel with 11.5km to go, as the bunch sat up for what felt like the first time in the entire race.

After the frantic start in Brittany, a brutal weekend in the Alps, and then that ‘Mont Ven-two’ madness on Wednesday, perhaps it was inevitable that we would have a quieter day. And it was a nice moment for Politt and Bon a day when their star rider Peter Sagan was forced to abandon with a knee injury.

Cavendish did win the sprint for the minor points, claiming three on the line to extend his lead in the green jersey competition to 59 points over Michael Matthews (BikeExchange).

The 36-year-old can take some consolation from that on a day when he never seemed quite happy. It started with his clothing. Instead of the green skinsuit he had worn in the flat stages since taking the lead of the points classification, Cavendish raised eyebrows by arriving at the start wearing a green top with blue shorts.

One can only assume the organizers – who provide suits to the jersey wearers – did not have a skinsuit available. It is unclear whether they will have one ready for him on Friday, but it would be a bad sign if he does not emerge in one as he would clearly prefer to. Cavendish looked restless, stopping at one point to confer with a mechanic and fiddle with his cleats.

Mark Cavendish never seemed quite happy when he sought to equal Eddy Merckx’s record – GETTY IMAGES.

His supporters will hope that he has rediscovered his mojo on Friday – and that organizers get a skinsuit to him in time. Then it will be down to QuickStep and whether they can control the stage or convince anyone to help them do so.

While the sport waits to see whether Cavendish can match Merckx, over in Italy, another legend of cycling is extending her own remarkable record.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), racing her 16th season in the professional peloton, won stage seven of the women’s Giro d’Italia on Thursday, beating Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) to the line after an uphill finish. It was her 30th win in the race.

Anna van der Breggen (SDWorx) was third, further cementing her place at the top of the overall standings with three stages remaining.

03:28 pm

Pogacar retains the leader’s yellow jersey.

After rolling over the finishing line safely in Nîmes just under 16 minutes down on stage winner Nils Politt, Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) kept hold of his Maillot Jaune. Despite all the pre-stage talk of crosswinds and general classification pile-ons, there were no changes of any note in the overall standings.

Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step) won the sprint from the peloton, finishing ahead of Michael Matthews to take the 14th spot – and three more points towards the green jersey – which saw him gain on the BikeExchange rider who he now leads by 59 points.

With just one categorized featuring today, the category three côte du Belvédère de Tharaux, where Politt and Stefan Küng opened their accounts in the mountains classification, there were no changes in that competition that is led by Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic). Pogacar kept hold of his white jersey as a best young rider, obviously.

03:12 pm

Politt wins stage 12 at the Tour!

What a superbly executed move from Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), who has just claimed a thoroughly deserved stage win at the Tour de France, the biggest win of his career. After attacking around 11.5km from the line, the German barely looked back.

Imanol Erviti (Movistar) beat Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal) in a two-up sprint to take the second 31sec after Politt. At the same time, Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), who was dropped following an attack from the Australian on the final rise of the stage, finished fourth at 1min 58sec.

03:11 pm

Politt on course for the stage win

The German who has just one win, a stage at the 2018 edition of the Deutschland Tour, on his palmarès, goes beneath the flame rouge, and he is already smiling and celebrating for the TV cameras.

03:09 pm

2.5km to go

Nils Politt will, barring disaster, be winning this stage very soon.

03:07 pm

6km to go

Nils Politt, the 27-year-old from Cologne, is absolutely flying. His legs spin as fast as they can, locked in the most significant gear available to him. Buoyed by a tailwind, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider is cooking on gas, and he’s leading Imanol Erviti and Harry Sweeny by 23sec.

03:04 pm

8km to go

Nils Politt gains 16sec on Imanol Erviti or Harry Sweeny.

03:00 pm

11.5km to go

Nils Politt has attacked, and neither Imanol Erviti nor Harry Sweeny was able to follow. Polite, the runner-up to Philippe Gilbert at the 2019 edition of Paris-Roubaix, is gasping for air, taking as much as possible. It will be a breathless finale for the German and his Bora-Hansgrohe team, who lost leader Peter Sagan this morning.

02:59 pm

12.5km to go

Movistar moves to the front of the peloton. Back up the road, Imanol Erviti, Nils Politt, and Harry Sweeny ease off the pace a little, confident that Stefan Küng’s race is over for the day. Further back, there appears to be a massive battle between the Julian Alaphilippe group, but they are over a minute down on the stage leaders.

02:56 pm

15km to go

The leading quartet of Imanol Erviti, Stefan Küng, Nils Politt, and Harry Sweeny inch their way up the final uncategorized climb of the day before the Australian puts in a dig. Küng, as a result, is dropped. Audacious stuff from the young man who turns 23 tomorrow.

02:52 pm

17.5km to go

Imanol Erviti, Stefan Küng, Nils Politt, and Harry Sweeny’s advantage has grown to almost a minute. Undoubtedly one of these will win today.

02:44 pm

25km to go

Julian Alaphilippe et al. trail the leading quartet by 30sec! None of the top riders – Imanol Erviti, Stefan Küng, Nils Politt, and Harry Sweeny – have ever won a stage at the Tour and just one, Erviti, has any grand tour stage wins on his palmarès having twice raised his arms in celebration at the Vuelta an España (in 2008 and 2010).

02:42 pm

26.5km to go

Edvald Boasson Hagen drops back to his TotalÉnergies team car to chat and, perhaps, collect some food or an energy gel. The leading quartet continues working well together as they speed along a beautiful old tree-lined road. Back in the peloton, Ineos Grenadiers shuffle their way a little further up the pack, but Tadej Pogacar holds a prime position. Not sure whether Ineos Grenadiers are expecting crosswinds, but thus far, I have not seen too many exposed sections of road where any attacks would potentially cause any damage.

02:33 pm

35km

Harry Sweeny, Imanol Erviti, Stefan Küng, and Nils Politt are barrelling along, riding through and off with a slight tail-crosswind. They lead the Maillot Jaune by over 14 minutes, but of more importance about the stage win, there’s a gap of around 30sec between themselves and the rainbow jersey’s group. I fear, however, that Julian Alaphilippe et al. may have missed the decisive move here. Stefan Küng, as mentioned earlier, is an absolute diesel and cannot afford for the other fasten to bridge over if he wants to win the first stage for Groupama-FDJ at this year’s Tour de France.

02:30 pm

37km to go

The world champion and the rest have already lost 20sec to the leading quartet, but can they be reeled back in? Looking unlikely.

02:29 pm

40km to go

Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal), the 22-year-old Australian neo-pro, attacks while an energy gel hangs out of his mouth. Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), and Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) got onto his wheel, but Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) was slow to react and missed the move.

02:25 pm

42.5km to go

Julian Alaphilippe is looking twitchy, the Frenchman darting around in his usual theatrical manner. He appears to be talking to the others, no doubt making sure everybody does his turn.

02:21 pm

45km to go

The attacks have started! Nils Politt clips off first, the German followed by former British road champion Connor Swift. The pair are chased down by Luka Mezgec. Stefan Bissegger is the next to follow, but as it is, all of the moves have canceled each other out.

02:18 pm

50km to go

I’m not a betting man, but I would put my house on this stage being won today by a rider from the breakaway. Riders will have to play a canny game given the mixed bag of talent off up the road. The likes of Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), both vital time trialists, will not want to go all the way to the line alongside the likes of André Greipel (ISN) or Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange). At the same time, everybody will be concerned with world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step).

finale

The final 16km of the stage includes a short climb where some may suffer before a rolling finale to the finishing line in Nîmes.

01:56 pm

65km to go | Sagan speaks

After pulling out of the Tour de France ahead of today’s stage, Peter Sagan, speaking to Eurosport and GCN, said he is now focusing on getting fit enough to compete at the Olympic Games: “I have a knee problem, and two days ago I hit my knee against the bar in the sprint. Yesterday after a challenging stage, it was swollen, and I could not move my leg.

Peter Sagan – Tour de France 2021, stage 12 – live updates – EPA

“For sure, I’m sad, I’m disappointed because, in the end, I survive the day, and it looks like it’s getting better, but after I hit it again, everything is now over,” the three-time world champion added. “I’m sad also for my team because today is significant for the GC [general classification] and Wilco [Kelderman], and it’s also not nice for me to leave the Tour de France. In the next few days, we will see if the knee is better. Then for sure, I want to be focused and to prepare my best for the Olympics. The doctor can explain better.”

The breakaway’s advantage is still growing, almost nudging 12min.

01:45 pm

74.5km to go

The breakaway has gone over the only categorized climb of the day, the category three côte du Belvédère de Tharaux, and Nils Politt was the first over the top to earn himself two points in the mountains classification. At the same time, Stefan Küng took the other up for grabs.

They were the first points won by both riders in the competition after almost two weeks of racing.

01:37 pm

78km to go

Stefan Küng, the Swiss time trial specialist and strong rouleur, may already be thinking of today’s stage win, but can he lift the gloom surrounding his Groupama-FDJ team? The French squad’s leader Arnaud Démare was eliminated after missing the time cut on stage nine, while their talented young climber David Gaudu suffered horribly during yesterday’s stage. Küng led the stage five-time trial for some time before Tadej Pogacar blew the 27-year-old away, beating his time by a whopping 19sec.

Groupama-FDJ – AFP

The breakaway’s advantage has now grown to over 11 minutes.

01:27 pm

85km to go

Back in the peloton and UAE Team Emirates are riding on the front to look after the maillot jaune on the shoulders of Tadej Pogacar, ahead of Ineos Grenadiers. They, incidentally, reunited with Geraint Thomas sometime back. EF Education-Nippo, riding on behalf of Rigoberto Urán, are the third team on the road.

Tadej Pogacar – AP

The breakaway’s advantage has grown out to 10min 30sec.

01:23 pm

90km to go

Of the 13 up the road, Mark Cavendish’s old sparring partner André Greipel (ISN) has won more Tour de France stages than any other rider in the breakaway, but can the 38-year-old German also roll the years back here today? Live Cavendish until last week, Greipel has not raised his arms in celebration at the Tour since 2016. His breakaway rivals, however, will be in no mood to hand out any gifts here today. Their lead has grown out to over 10 minutes now.

01:17 pm

95km to go

The breakaway’s lead grows further still, out to 9min 45sec.

Peloton – REUTERS

01:07 pm

100km to go

With each pedal stroke taken by those in the breakaway, the possibility of Mark Cavendish winning a 34th Tour de France stage today looks increasingly unlikely. As mentioned, Cavendish has dark shorts on today, but why, you may ask, does this matter?

Mark Cavendish – REUTERS

For each of the stage wins he has taken at this year’s race, Cavendish has worn a skinsuit, and since taking the Maillot Jaune, he opted to wear a full green skinsuit for his subsequent two victories. Having opted for a regular jersey and shorts combination, it would suggest he is not expecting to challenge for the sprint finish. Perhaps I am reading too much into his wardrobe choices? Only time will tell.

12:54 pm

110km to go

Absolutely stunning part of the world the riders are heading through today as it passes through the magical Gorges de l’Ardèche, looks at it:

Tour de France 2021, stage 12 – live updates – GETTY IMAGES

The breakaway’s advantage has increased to a shade under nine minutes as it inches up yet another uncategorized climb.

12:47 pm

115km to go

The breakaway has pulled out a further 30sec on the peloton, while a few minutes ago, Mark Cavendish stopped at the roadside for a conflab with a team mechanic. It appeared that he wanted to twiddle with the cleats on one of his shoes. Cavendish today is dressed in traditional black shorts instead of the green skinsuit he wore during Tuesday’s stage win for those who care about these things.

Davide Formolo and Rafal Majka – AP

12:40 PM

120km to go

The breakaway has increased its lead on the peloton, where Mark Cavendish is currently nestled, to over seven minutes. Good news for those in the 13-man group up the road, but less good news for Cavendish, who may have to wait another day to challenge for a 34th stage win. That is some gap, and with the sort of horsepower the breakaway has, it would take a massive and concerted effort from Deceuninck-Quick Step to close it down.

12:32 pm

Thumbs up from Cavendish

Mark Cavendish appeared happy enough with life at the start of the stage, but will he be smiling at the finish in Nîmes, where he won a step back in 2008 after finishing ahead of Robbie McEwen. Erik Zabel was also racing that day which feels like a very long time ago.

Mark Cavendish – EPA

12:26 pm

130km to go

Rafal Majka is sat near the front of the peloton with the race leader, and the UAE Team Emirates teammate Tadej Pogacar sat tucked in behind, looking very relaxed. The breakaway leads by almost five minutes now. Still, the Maillot Jaune does not appear too concerned, and why should he because the highest placed rider in general classification up the road is Sergio Henao, who trails by 50min 57sec. Richie Porte is sitting beside the army of UAE Team Emirates riders who are protecting their leader, and he, too, is looking relaxed, chatting away to Davide Formolo near the front.

12:10 pm

140km to go

All change on the front of the race, with a 13-man group now leading the way. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), Edvald Boasson Hagen (TotalÉnergies), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), André Greipel (ISN), Sergio Henao (Qhubeka-NextHash), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal), Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) and Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) have formed an early breakaway. They lead the Maillot Jaune by 21sec, while two other groups trail by 33sec and 58sec respectively – Geraint Thomas is in the fourth group on the road.

12:01 pm

148km to go

Buoyed by a tailwind, Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) clips off the front before the pint-sized grimpeur is joined by Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r-Citroën) and a handful of others. The direction of the road changes soon and so that tailwind may change to a crosswind so that leading group is probably the ideal size – too small and there are not enough riders able to take the wind, too many and one or two may be lost after being put into the gutter.

11:59 am

150km to go | Thomas in the third group

I was not 100 percent right about Ineos Grenadiers. Geraint Thomas missed the split and is in the third group on the road. That’s not great from the Welshman who is ordinarily decent in these conditions.

11:54 am

Rapid start to the day | Echelons have formed

The race crosses the bridge straight from the off, exposing the riders to an early taste of the wind blowing. Some aggressive riding on the front from Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quick Step puts the whole peloton on alert while stretching it all out in a long line. Already some are struggling and have been spat out the back of the bunch as small echelons start to form. Ineos Grenadiers and Tadej Pogacar are in the leading group, so, as it stands, the general classification riders all appear to be riding together.

11:50 am

And they’re off!

Having tapped their way through the neutralized section that took the peloton out from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, race director Christian Prudhomme poked his head out of the shiny red Skoda that sat at the head of each stage and dropped the flag to signify that this stage is very much on. All of the classification leaders were sat on Prudhomme’s bumper, as were Tao Geoghegan Hart and Ineos Grenadiers teammate Michal Kwiatkowski and a posse of potential escapees. But will anybody have the nerve and legs to attempt to form a breakaway the day after that monster Ventoux stage? This should be a fascinating day of racing. Hold on to your casquettes.

11:07 am

Sagan abandons the Tour

News has just come through from Bora-Hansgrohe confirming that Peter Sagan has been forced to abandon the Tour for the first time in his career. In a message sent out by his team, Bora-Hansgrohe, doctor Christopher Edler explained Sagan had been suffering from a knee injury since taking a knock during stage three – when the three-time world champion was involved in a crash with Caleb Ewan.

“Peter suffered already an injury during stage three when he hit his hip and his knee.” The doctor explains how a chainring took some skin off his patella, and although concerned about getting infected, Sagan pushed on before taking another knock on the same knee during Tuesday’s stage 10.

10:38 am

Stage start delayed | High winds expected

The start of today’s stage has been delayed by 10 minutes due to a strong tailwind. Race organizers will not want the stage finishing earlier than planned for various reasons, many of which will have commercial ramifications, hence the delayed start. From a sporting perspective, though, the very mention of wind has led to talk of echelons forming in today’s stage. In reality, tomorrow is better suited to echelons given the nature of the route and its closeness to the coastline; however, teams and riders will be on high alert today.

If one team in the peloton can ride well and ride hard in the wind, that team is Deceuninck-Quick Step. The Belgian squad may use the conditions to their advantage by depending enormously on the front to shell Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) and other sprinters. Their teams may show any signs of weakness should any crosswinds be strong enough to cause splits.

Likewise, the general classification teams may use crosswinds to their advantage as they attempt to pile the pressure onto Tadej Pogacar. The loss of Luke Rowe, who missed the time cut yesterday, may prove costly for Ineos Grenadiers, who have historically coped well in these conditions. Anyway, enough idle speculation, I’ll be back at 12.50 pm (GMT) to talk you through the stage, from beginning to end.10:10 am

Bonjour!

Hello and welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 12 at the Tour, the 159.4-kilometer run from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Nîmes.

Wout van Aert – Tour de France 2021, stage 12 – live updates – REUTERS

A day after the race, leader Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) ‘cracked’ yet extended his lead in the general classification by three minutes and 17 seconds. A rider who has won sprint stages and threatened to win time trial stages triumphed after twice going over Mont Ventoux ahead of the natural grippers – Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – who knows what today’s racing will throw up?

Will it be another victory for Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step), who can equal Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins at the Tour, or is the breakaway going to go all the way? Will the wind blow, and can teams combine and form alliances on the road and try and put the pressure on Pogacar and his teammates should crosswinds liven the day up?

Tadej Pogacar – Tour de France 2021, stage 12 – live updates – AP

We do not know the answers to these questions, but we do know who will be wearing what as a respective leader in each of the four main classifications – in other words, those that have jerseys. No change at the top of the points classification, and so Cavendish will, once again, be dressed in the maillot vert or the green jersey.

Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) failed to earn a single point in the mountains classification yesterday. Still, as a leader in that competition, the Colombian will again be dressed in the maillot à pois or polka dot jersey. With just one category three climb in today’s stage and a category four on Friday, if Quintana completes both locations within the time cut, he is assured to keep hold of the jersey until Saturday.

As the overall leader of the race, Pogacar also tops the best young rider classification. However, as second best, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) will wear the Slovenian’s maillot blanc, the white jersey. And for anybody that missed Van Aert’s masterful display on and over Mont Ventoux on Wednesday, relive the highlights here.

So, what’s on today’s menu?

Tour de France stage 12 profile – Tour de France 2021, stage 12 – live updates – ASO

Here’s a look at the all-important numbers from that one climb. But what about those who only have eyes for the green jersey?