Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) spent all but fifteen kilometres of the Tour de France's 185.5km stage 12 out in front as part of the day's breakaway and was rewarded with the most combative prize at the finish line in Saint-Étienne. The Australian will spend his 29th birthday today with the red most combative rider number on his jersey as a reward.
"The only way you are going to win is if you really put it on the line. You have to risk losing to win," Clarke said. "We had a big plan today to make sure at least one of us was in the breakaway and then have a couple of guys waiting for the sprint. I had this stage in mind since the beginning of the Tour.
"We abided by the plan and did everything we could. We can only keep doing that and hopefully it will pay off eventually."
Joining Clarke in the breakaway was former teammate Sebestian Langevald (Garmin-Sharp), Florian Vachon (Bretagne Seche), Gregory Rast (Trek) and David De La Cruz (Net-App-Endura). When De La Cruz crashed attempting to corner, breaking his collarbone, the gap back to the peloton being led by Giant-Shimano begun to shrink.
With 55km left to race, Clarke and Langeveld attacked from the break to force a small gap while Europcar launched Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quemeneur from the bunch in an attempt to catch the two-leaders on the road. Clarke made an attempt for stage honours when he attacked Langeveld with 25km left to race, explaining that his only chance for victory would be from the break.
"We really want to win a stage," he said. "My best chance to win is by breaking away so I had a big crack in the breakaway today. It didn't work out but the Tour is not over yet. We'll keep trying."
Clarke and the Europcar duo were reeled in with 5km left to race and Michael Albasini finished off the day for GreenEdge by claiming fourth in the sprint.
"We really expected the racing to be a lot more aggressive for a lot longer this morning," the team's sport director Matt White said. "It was always going to be a good day for a break away and once Clarke went with his group of five we could just sit behind and see what eventuated later on.
A crash just shy of the three kilometre to go mark derailed any ambitions that Simon Gerrans had for the win and White explained that Albasini then took it upon himself to challenge for the stage win.
"When Simon [Gerrans] couldn't get back into position after being offset by the crash of Andre Griepel and [Sylvain] Chavanel, Alba [Albasini] made a great effort alone," White said.
"Obviously it was not good enough to beat the best sprinters in the world, but a very solid effort."
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