BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France (Reuters) - Simon Yates put a disappointing Giro d’Italia campaign behind him when he won the 12th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, as the main title contenders stayed quiet in the first Pyrenean climbs of this year’s race.
With an individual time trial scheduled for Friday, none of the top guns attacked, and 40 riders broke away from the peloton in the 209.5-km ride from Toulouse.
Australian Rohan Dennis abandoned the race around the 80 km mark, with his Bahrain Merida team unable to explain the reasons of his withdrawal after he went off the radar for over an hour.
Vuelta champion Yates was arguably the strongest climber of the group and he also proved the fastest in a small-committee sprint to complete his set of grand tour stage wins after winning three times in the Giro d’Italia and twice at the Vuelta a Espana.
France’s Julian Alaphilippe retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey with a 1:12-minute advantage over defending champion Geraint Thomas.
Tim Wellens, part of the breakaway, consolidated his lead in the mountains classification by reaching the top of the Col de Peyresourde (13km at 7%) first.
Yates, Austrian Gregor Muehlberger and Spain’s Pello Bilbao were alone in front at the top of the last ascent of the day, the Hourquette d’Ancizan (10km at 7.5%), and they stayed ahead in the final descent into Bagneres-de-Bigorre.
Yates took the final bend first and, with only 100 metres left, held a decisive advantage in a three-man sprint with Bilbao finishing second and Muehlberger third.
In contrast to his twin brother and Mitchelton-Scott team mate Adam, Yates has no ambitions in the general classification this year after finishing eighth in the Giro after starting the Italian race targeting the overall victory.
“I wasn’t very confident in beating them. I didn’t know how fast these two riders were but my sports director told me to take the last corner in first position and I’m glad it worked out well,” the 26-year-old Yates told reporters.
“To have won a stage at all three Grand Tours makes me very proud. This was probably a unique opportunity for me to achieve it this year.
“My main goal is to help Adam in the mountains and we thought that wouldn’t be needed today, that’s why I took the breakaway. After (team mate) Daryl Impey’s win the other day, we’re having a fantastic Tour and hopefully it will continue.”
The spotlight will switch back to the overall contenders for Friday’s 13th stage, when Thomas will look to gain more time over his main rivals in the 27.2-km time trial in Pau.
Adam Yates will be one of the riders to watch after he flew off the radar in the opening block of racing.
He lies seventh overall, 1:47 behind Alaphilippe, and his sports director Matt White believes the climber can limit the damage in the time trial.
“Ending up within 30 seconds of Thomas would be a good result I think,” White said.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by John Stonestreet and Pritha Sarkar