Yates’ cool finish clinches first Tour win
Briton sprints to victory in first Pyrenees stage Australian Dennis quits after dispute with team
‘I heard I needed to arrive at the last corner in first and I did that’
There was a time when British success in grand tours seemed somehow otherworldly, the preserve of adventurers and dreamers who had journeyed to Europe and managed to upset the odds against the established cycling nations, Belgium, France and Italy. How quickly these things become normalised.
A day that started with Chris Froome being retrospectively awarded the 2011 Vuelta a Espana title – his seventh grand tour success – ended with Simon Yates pulling off a sensational victory on stage 12 of the Tour de France. With the race hitting the Pyrenees for the first time, the Bury-born rider (Mitchelton-scott) successfully infiltrated the day’s 40-man breakaway before escaping with two others, Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Gregor Muhlberger (Bora-hansgrohe) on the final climb of the day, La Hourquette d’ancizan.
The trio then worked together to extend their advantage on the descent into Bagneres-de-bigorre, where it was Yates who won the three-man sprint.
It was a cool finish from the former points race world champion, who has now won stages at all three grand tours as well as the overall title at last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Ten minutes later Yates was followed by the main bunch, which was being controlled by a British team, Ineos, riding for Welshman Geraint Thomas, who is the race’s virtual maillot jaune.
Thomas still trails Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-quickstep) by 1min 12sec in the general classification, with the Frenchman surviving the first day in the Pyrenees with no issues. But Thomas can expect to win back at least half of that time in today’s 27.2-kilometre time trial in Pau.
And with the race then hitting the mountains proper, with summit finishes on the Tourmalet to come tomorrow and then Foix Prat d’albis on Sunday, most pundits believe Alaphilippe’s early exertions in this race will begin to show and Thomas will inherit yellow.
The extraordinary thing is how ordinary this all seems. Thirty years ago, individual stage wins by British riders at the Tour were rare. Since then, Mark Cavendish has won 30, Froome seven, David Millar four, Chris Boardman three, and Bradley Wiggins and Steve Cummings two apiece. That accounts for well over half the total of 70 British stage wins in the race’s 100year plus history.
Yates was typically understated afterwards. “I wasn’t super-confident in my own sprint, but you never really know after such a long day how fresh the other guys are, how fast,” he said. “I just heard from my director that I needed to arrive at the last corner in first position, and I did that.”
The truth is the only way it could have gone any better was if his twin, Adam, seventh overall at 1min 47sec, had cunningly switched places without anyone noticing, and put 10 minutes into his general classification rivals.
The day’s other big talking point revolved around Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-merida), who was seen having a blazing row with members of his team’s support staff before the start in Toulouse.
The Australian proceeded to climb off his bike at a feed zone mid-stage and quit the race. Bahrain-merida declined to comment, but there was talk of Dennis being unhappy with his equipment and the team – which has partnered with Mclaren this year – in general.
It means Dennis, one of the strongest time triallists in the world, misses out on the chance to compete for a stage win in Pau today. Thomas will not mind. Not that he is racing the Australian overall, but he has a better chance of winning the stage himself without Dennis there. The 2018 champion is expected to put between half a minute and a minute into most of his main rivals on a hilly course.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” Thomas said. “It’s been quite hard, waiting and waiting, but tomorrow I’ll get to go all in. I’ve ridden it already three times. I like it. It’s fast and it should be hard. It’s going to be a big day.”
Breakaway group: Britain’s Simon Yates leads Gregor Muhlberger and Pello Bilbao yesterday