Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) out-sprinted a three-man breakaway to secure his first stage win at the Tour de France. The Danish rider launched his sprint inside 300 metres to go and held of Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) and Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) to take the stage 13 victory in Saint-Etienne.
The trio were part of the day's breakaway that also included Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo).
Pedersen launched a searing attack 12.2km out that split the breakaway, taking Houle and Wright with him. Although collaborative at first, each fired off an attack in the closing kilometres but none were successful at creating a gap.
Houle made one last jump but Pedersen and Wright were quick to respond, which then forced the Canadian to lead them under the flamme rouge and into the sprint.
Pedersen was the first to kick and while Wright reacted, he could not close the gap and was forced to settle for second and Houle in third.
Küng led in the chase group for fourth place 30 seconds later with Jorgenson in fifth and Ganna sixth.
There were no changes to the overall classification as Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) leads the GC by 2:22 ahead of runner-up Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and 2:26 ahead of third-placed Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers). The race heads into stage 14 from Saint-Étienne to Mende on Saturday.
"It's incredible to finally take a win [at the Tour]. I knew the shape was really good. I definitely missed out on some opportunities in the first week," Pedersen said.
"In the last two weeks there are not a lot of chances for guys like me so to take the chance today and get the reward is really nice, not just for me but the whole team. We came here with riders only for stage wins and now we have one, so it's a big relief.
"For a long time I thought it was a mistake to be in the break, because we only had two minutes, but in the end it paid off. Today it was super hard for everyone. Everyone was really on the limit."
How it unfolded
After the fireworks across two back-to-back Alpine stages that finished on Col du Granon and Alpe d'Huez, stage 13 offered some reprieve with a 192.6km between Bourg d'Oisans and Saint-Étienne.
The relatively flat stage, in comparison, suited the breakaway riders and sprinters. However, there were still a few lumps en route; Côte de Brié (30km), Parménie (80km), a sprint at La Côte-Saint-André, and a final climb over Côte de Saint-Romain-en Gal (150km), before a gentle rise toward the finish in Saint-Étienne.
The day started with 158 riders, down one rider, Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), who was the latest rider to leave the Tour de France due to COVID-19 in the morning ahead of the stage.
Several failed attacks eventually paved the way for the day's breakaway to set sail over the top of the Côte de Brié, which was 2.4km at 6.9%, with Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar).
The pace was so high that it caused key sprinters Peter Sagan (Total Energies) and Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) to struggle and briefly lose contact with the main field.
Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), Mads Pedersen and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), and Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) soon joined the lead trio to form a breakaway of seven with 142km to go.
Alpecin-Deceuninck and Lotto Soudal did most of the work at the front of the peloton, keeping it close for sprinters, but without assistance from other teams with sprint contenders like BikeExchange-Jayco.
Simmons set the pace on the Col de Parmenie, while Pedersen led the breakaway over the top, as the gap fluctuated between 2:35 and down to 1:45.
Jakobsen was distanced again from the field on the climb and then as the peloton split into several groups through the exposed valley roads toward the intermediate sprint at La Côte-Saint-André. QuickStep-AlphaVinyl dropped back to help lead him into the bunch.
Bad luck for Ewan
Bad luck struck Lotto Soudal as Caleb Ewan crashed through a right-hand corner with 71.2km to go. As his teammates led through the turn, a cross of wheels caused the Australian to go down.
Race medics briefly tended to Ewan's cuts on his right arm, knee and leg as he sat at the side of the road. He was then back on his bike, chasing to get back into the race, but without the assistance of teammates.
He initially rode in the slipstream of a team car as he tried desperately to make his way back to the field.
To make matters worse, as Alpecin-Deceuninck riders increased the pace at the front of the field, race officials barraged Ewan from gaining assistance from the team vehicles with 65.5km to go.
He eventually reached the back of the caravan, and tried to punch his way in and out of the team cars, but he was still 45 seconds off the back of the field.
Ewan eventually caught up to a small group as the race headed toward the day's key climb, a category 3 Côte de Saint-Romain-en-Gal, which was 6.6km at 4.5%, and where the sprinters would need to dig deep for their chance at a sprint in Saint-Etienne.
However, as the road turned up, it spelled the end for Ewan, who eased off the pedals with nothing left in the tank. Dropped from the chase group with 50km to go, he winced in pain but still appeared determined to reach the finish line.
Breakaway succeeds in Saint-Étienne
The seven-rider breakaway was reduced to six as Simmons fell off the pace on Saint-Romain-en-Gal. The remaining riders carried on at full speed; Ganna, Pedersen, Küng, Jorgenson, Wright and Houle with 2:07 in hand.
The GC teams Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers, and UAE Team Emirates rode to the front as Alpecin and QuickStep backed off for their sprinters on the ascent. The pace then eased considerably, allowing the gap to the breakaway to grow as they crested the climb at 3:30.
BikeExchange-Jayco appeared at the head of the bunch en masse over the top with Dylan Groenewegen. Their efforts reduced the gap to 2:35, with the team taking some risks on the tricky descent.
Onto the uphill drag towards Saint-Étienne, BikeExchange-Jayco continued to eat into the breakaway's gap, but they still had 2:15 to make up inside 15km. Eventually, the team was reduced to just three riders, and they called off the chase with 12km to go.
The gap immediately pushed back out to 2:30, as a big attack came from Pedersen with 12.2km to go, forced Wright and Houle to chase, while Ganna, Küng and Jorgenson suffered to make the connection. Wright powered to the front and pulled Pedersen and Houle along, and the trio fully committed to making the efforts a success.
The road kicked up again under the 10km-to-go banner, but they maintained 20 seconds on the chasers and 3:20 ahead of the main field.
Houle broke the rhythm, firing an attack inside 8km to go on a slight incline, but the other two reacted immediately. They settled back into a more cooperative state, committing to working together, bringing their lead to 30 seconds inside four kilometres.
Wright made his move three kilometres out, but Pedersen dragged him back with Houle on his wheel. With 2km to go, the trio began to play out their tactics for the stage win as Houle took the front and led into the flamme rouge.
Houle was in front with 600 metres to the line and looked back at the other two on his wheel. Pedersen jumped first in a dash for the stage win. Wright tried to move onto his slipstream but could do no more and finished second, with Houle caught out in third.
"I really didn't want to be at the finish with six guys, because that's too many guys to control. I tried to attack and luckily it split the break, there were only three and that's a lot easier to control. From 10km to 5km it was about making the gap as big as possible so that we had time to slow down and gamble a bit in the last few kilometres. Luckily it paid off for me," Pedersen said.
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