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A split-second decision by Michael Rogers led to Saxo-Tinkoff blowing the lead group apart in the final hour of stage 13
Saxo-Tinkoff drives late stage 13 escape
The loss of Michael Rogers at Team Sky was clear for all to see on stage 13 of the Tour de France after the Australian inspired a break that included team leader Alberto Contador and saw Chris Froome lose more than a minute to his rivals.
The stage from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond was set to be a battle between the sprinters, a day off for the riders gunning for the maillot jaune as they stretched their legs before Sunday's outing up Mont-Ventoux.
However, with crosswinds ripping through the peloton, Rogers used his considerable experience to great effect and ordered his Saxo-Tinkoff teammates to split the field. It worked perfectly with the team demonstrating not just their growing form but the brittle nature of Froome's men. By the finish Froome had conceded 1:09 to Rogers' leader Alberto Contador and the Belkin duo of Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam.
In scenes reminiscent of the Tour stage to La Grande-Motte in 2009, when Rogers and his HTC teammates split the field with Lance Armstrong – that time at Contador's expense – Rogers picked the moment perfectly with 30 kilometres to go.
"I saw the opportunity arise in the crosswinds and I said to the boys lets put our heads down and go as hard as we can. It was harder than a mountain stage and I think the hardest stage I've ever done," he said at the finish.
"It's not over and today worked well because we've clawed back some time. It wasn't planned in the morning but it was decided in a split second. I saw everyone was tired with roughly 30 kilometres to go and I said to the boys let's go, let's try, we've got nothing to do. It paid off.
"It was similar to La Grande-Motte, yes. We had similar conditions. I saw everyone was on the limit and we were all at the front and we went at the right moment. It was a split-second decision and now we've clawed back some time. We spent some energy but so did everyone."
How Sky could have used Rogers' energy today. The Australian left the team at the close of 2012 despite helping Bradley Wiggins win a Tour de France, signing a deal with Bjarne Riis that should see him through to the end of his career.
Froome still leads the race with a 2:28 advantage over Mollema and Contador at 2:45. With one individual time trial still to come Sky remain, publicly at least, confident that they can win a consecutive Tour. However, as Rogers and Saxo-Tinkoff demonstrated, any weakness in the British camp will be ruthlessness exposed and on any terrain.
"You never plan that stuff. I looked at Daniele Bennati, he nodded and all the team was there. It was the perfect moment. Sky still has a time advantage but we'll keep chipping away. You can have all the best tactics in the world but you also need the team to back it up."