Six years ago, when the Tour de France last witnessed a stage finish in the Bagneres De-Bigorre, Irishman Dan Martin beat Jakob Fuglsang to the line to claim his maiden Tour stage. In a technical finish, he nudged ahead of Fuglsang just before the last corner before powering away to towards the line. History repeated itself on Thursday's stage 12 when Simon Yates came through on the same corner before edging out his breakaway companions in another close finish.
The British climber now has stage wins in all three Grand Tours to his name, but today it was as much about his tactical awareness as it was about his legs. In truth, this isn't the same Simon Yates who came agonisingly close to winning last year's Giro d'Italia before coming back to win the Vuelta a España in style. The form isn't at the same level this July after a punishing Giro. The main priority for Yates in this year's Tour is support his brother Adam and his GC bid, but on stage 12 he was afforded the chance to ride for himself.
He infiltrated the main break of the day, and then on the final climb of Hourquette d'Ancizan he powered clear with Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Gregor Mulhberger (Bora-hansgrohe). On paper, Mulhberger perhaps had the better sprint. He came a close second to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier in the year, but Yates' positioning was key, and in the end the road simply ran out for the Austrian and Bilbao.
"I've been saving energy until we got here in the mountains, and this was the first chance to try something," Yates said immediately after his first stage win in the Tour de France.
"Normally I would be back helping Adam, but I had my own chance and grabbed it with both hands. I wasn't very confident of beating either of them as I didn't know how fast they are. But my director said I had to be in front coming round the last corner so I made sure I did that, and thankfully I held on to win. I'm very proud of winning stages in all three Grand Tours, and hopefully there are more to come. We'll see if there are more chances this Tour. My main priority is to help Adam. I just had the chance to get up the road today. I'll see how I am in the next few days. We're having a fantastic Tour and long may it continue.
"There were always going to be opportunities in these sort of stages, especially when the breakaway is so big," Yates said. "If it was not so big I would not have tried to go up the road but when it's so big it's not as difficult to be out there in the front. This is probably one of two opportunities total I will have so I was just thankful that I was able to pull it off."
Yates has been conceding time on a consistent basis since the Tour left Brussels. To some it was a surprise to see the Grand Tour contender drop down the standings, but that was always the Mitchelton-Scott plan. After racing the Giro there was no way their Vuelta winner would try and go toe-to-toe with yellow jersey contenders.
His brother Adam, who was fourth in the Tour three years ago, remains in contention and sits 1:47 down on current leader, Alaphilippe. For today's stage winner, the remaining stages will be about supporting his brother and his aims of finishing on the podium in Paris. With a second stage win in the camp, after Daryl Impey won stage 9, the mood at Mitchelton will certainly be confident.
"Now it's back to the day job," Simon Yates said. "Just looking out for him. He's looking good, so I'm excited."
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