Belleville, France: Basque rider Ion Izagirre broke away for a solo triumph on stage 12 of the Tour de France on Thursday as defending champion Jonas Vingegaard retained his slender lead.
After a fast-paced ride through the Beaujolais vineyards Vingegaard is only 17 seconds clear of Tadej Pogacar in the overall standings ahead of three days in the mountains.
It was a second win for Izagirre’s team Cofidis after Victor Lafay won in San Sebastian, and also a second Basque win after Pello Bilbao won stage 10 on Tuesday.
“It’s great for the Basques, three stages there and two wins for us (the Basques),” Izagirre said.
“I had good legs on the last climb. Tonight we’re going to have a party.”
There was around 25km of climbing on the run from Roanne to Belleville as the peloton tore across the hilly 189km route with the pack splintering.
Cutting an infernal pace, over 100 riders soon fell off as they pedalled through some of France’s most prestigious vineyards.
An elite escape group formed only 80km from home and even this splintered many times before the 34-year-old Izagirre made his decisive move on the fifth and toughest ascent, the Col de la Croix Rosier — 5.3km long at eight per cent gradient 28km from the finish.
Having won stages on all three Grand Tours Izagirre executed a ruthless finale, extending his lead all the way to the line in Belleville.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot was part of the breakaway gaining over four minutes on the main contenders and climbing back into the top 10.
Friday’s stage marks the French national holiday of July 14 with a marquee route and an iconic summit finish at Le Grand Colombier in the Jura mountain range — a regular obstacle on recent Tours.
Pogacar said he wanted an early night ahead of the Grand Colombier.
“I remember it,” he said cocking his head and arching an eyebrow.
“I want to win it. It’s a good climb, if I have the legs I’ll attack. I should be good.”
Danish defending champion Vingegaard was taking Friday’s stage seriously.
“Tomorrow will be a decisive day,” he insisted.
Sprint specialist Fabio Jakobsen of the Quick-Step team withdrew from the Tour ahead of stage 12, struggling to shake off the after-effects of a hard fall.
“At this point it seems impossible for me to get to Paris,” he explained.
Others might be persuaded of this impossibility if they take a close look at the road ahead.
Saturday ends with a sensational downhill ride from Les Portes du Soleil, while Sunday should be a blockbuster climb at Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc.