This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Garmin-Sharp's David Millar took his fourth career Tour de France stage win and claimed Great Britain's fourth of this year's race when he outsprinted Ag2r-La Mondiale's Jean-Christophe Peraud to win stage 12 into Annonay Davézieux. The two riders were part of a five-man breakaway also including Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel) who built up a lead of more than 12 minutes on the bunch towards the end of the longest stage of the race.
The five men had plenty of time in hand as they came into the finish and made the most of it. After three hours of hard riding, they slowed down and began toying with each other over the final 4km. Kiserlovski and Martínez both feigned attacks, but it was Peraud who made the first full-on tilt for the line as they approached the 2km banner.
Millar chased after the Frenchman and, as the other three waited for each other to respond, it soon became clear that the stage would be decided by Peraud and the Scot. The pair cooperated until 500m from the line, when Peraud sat in on Millar's wheel and waited for the moment to make his move.
Peraud's mountain biking pedigree suggested that he might not to be well suited to a road sprint, but he put up a great fight. He waited until 200 metres from the line before making his move, jumping on Millar's right as the Scot stuck hard to the left-hand barrier. Peraud got alongside Millar, but when the Garmin man got his gear turning there was only going to be one winner. As he claimed his first Tour stage since 2003, Millar punched the air a couple of times and then collapsed to the ground beyond the line.
"The day worked out perfectly. It's my proudest win since my Tour victory at Béziers in 2002 as winning a road stage is always more emotional than winning a time trial or a prologue. It's taken our team going through turmoil to bring out the best of me," said Millar, who paid tribute to Tom Simpson, who died 45 years ago today on a Tour stage over Mont Ventoux.
Asked about the fact that all four of Britain's Olympic team riders who are racing at the Tour have now won a stage, Millar commented: "Our Olympic team is made up of Tour de France stage winners and that should make it quite a force. I never thought I would see Britons dominating like this at the Tour."
Garmin-Sharp DS Allan Peiper said that the victory had shown what "an old soldier" Millar is. "It was a very difficult stage as they raced hard from the start, but they knew they would have a chance after the first two climbs once the peloton came back together. There aren't too many tactics after a hard start and long stage like that. We knew the last 5k were very hard with a side to head wind in the last kilometre. But David was looking good on the road and he made his experience count. That's what made the difference," said Peiper.
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Tour de France stage 12 highlights (Courtesy: ASO)
The bunch was led in almost eight minutes later by Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge). However, within minutes the Australian was relegated for having deviated from his line in that sprint, preventing points rival Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) from getting a clean run at the finish. The Slovak's angry gesticulations left no doubt about his feelings on Goss's sprint.
Bradley Wiggins and Sky had a relatively comfortable day, happy to let the breakaway take centre stage as the race heads for the Pyrenees. However, following the stage, Wiggins revealed that he had received burns from a flare carried by a fan on the final climb 25km from the finish. He described the incident as more scary than painful.
"I think Dave must have been beginning to feel left out and it's incredible that he's won on such an anniversary. He's had a hard season with a crash that resulted in a broken collarbone, but to top it off with stage win on Tom's anniversary is good," Wiggins said of his former Garmin teammate. "We had a bit of a day off, but it was still pretty tough."
The break takes shape
Once again, there was action right from the off as dozens of riders attempted to get into the break of the day. Heading towards the Grand Cucheron, the first of two early first-category climbs, a break of 17 riders went clear. Astana's Kiserlovski was very prominent in it as he took the KoM points on the Grand Cucheron. Cofidis climber David Moncoutié tried to get across to the lead group here, but crashed on the descent and had to abandon the race with a broken collarbone.
Six riders fell back from the lead group on that climb, and another six were dropped on the subsequent ascent of the Col du Granier, where Kiserlovski again took maximum KoM points. The five leaders had no chance to ease up, though, as riders continued to attack from the bunch, which was less than two minutes in arrears.
Sagan was among those attackers. He went clear with Liquigas-Cannondale teammates Dominik Nerz and Kristjan Koren, as well as Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) and Chris Anker Sörensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank). Sagan's group got halfway across to the leaders, but were then hauled back as Orica-GreenEdge joined Sky in setting the pace on the front of the peloton in order to prevent the Slovak getting clear of Goss before the intermediate sprint.
Once Sagan's group had been brought back, Sky lifted the pedal at the front of the bunch, finally allowing the five-man break some breathing space. Their lead ballooned out to more than 12 minutes with 50km remaining. The only time the peloton raised its pace in that period was for that intermediate sprint, where Goss, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) all beat Sagan.
Wiggins was well protected by his Sky teammates