Vincenzo Nibali will head into the Alps with his hold on the yellow jersey intact after maintaining his two minutes 23 seconds lead over stage 12 of the Tour de France to Saint-Étienne yesterday.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) held off Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to clinch stage victory in a sprint finish after the peloton hauled back breakaway pair Simon Clarke (Orica Greenedge) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) with 5km to spare.
Nibali was safely tucked in the peloton along with his nearest challengers Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who retain second and third places respectively in the overall classification.
Kristoff said: “It is a great feeling – I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a small child and to finally achieve it is nice. There will be champagne tonight but tomorrow is a hard stage so there cannot be too much party.”
Clarke formed part of an early five-man breakaway which was gradually hauled back until the Australian and Sebastian Langeveld were left to set the pace up front. Langeveld had recovered from a crash which saw another Tour casualty in young Catalan rider David De La Cruz (TeamApp Endura), who was forced to abandon with a broken collarbone.
When Langeveld dropped back Clarke was joined by Gautier for the final and ultimately fruitless push towards the finish.
Good work by Sagan’s Cannondale team-mates looked to put the Slovakian in pole position for an overdue first Tour stage win this year but instead it was Kristoff who pounced to give Katusha their first success.
De La Cruz was not the day’s only casualty as Garmin-Sharp team leader Andrew Talansky withdrew from the race before yesterday’s stage after finally succumbing to the back and hip injuries which saw him finish a long way behind the peloton on Wednesday’s 11th stage.
Today the Tour heads into the Alps for the first time this year with the 197.5km stage from Saint-Étienne to Chamrousse, including the 1,154-metres Col de Palaquit. Porte is looking forward to the challenge of cementing his position among the leading group. He said: “It’s a big opportunity and it’s not an easy two days coming up. I think it’s going to be absolutely crucial for the general classification so I’m looking forward to taking more time on the guys behind me.”