The Tour de France travels to the Occitanie region in Southern France. With 160km and a single categorised climb on the cards, at a glance, this may not appear to be the most arduous stage.
However, with 2,000 metres of climbing and rolling terrain throughout, stage 12 cannot be underestimated. The breakaway specialists may sense an opportunity.
Stage 11 was won in incredible fashion by Wout van Aert. The Belgian road champion went solo on the final ascent of Mont Ventoux and crossed the line alone in Malaucène. Behind, Trek-Segafredo were second and third with Kenny Elissonde and Bauke Mollema. Ben O'Connor slides from second to fifth in the GC.
Stage 12 profile
The opening 20km are flat after stage 12 kicks-off in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. A breakaway may form here, though the first climb at kilometre 27 provides the best chance for the group of escapees to form. The Combe du Pouzat is uncategorised but averages around 3% for 4km.
The following kilometres take place on rolling terrain with continuous bumps and lumps to be tackled. This leads into the first and only categorised climb of the stage. The Côte du Belvédère de Tharaux begins 79km in. Two points lie at the top which means the leader of the KOM classification can rest in the peloton throughout the stage.
The next point of note is the intermediate sprint which occurs in Uzès. Crucially, the sprint takes place just 27km from the finish in Nîmes. which may deter some sprinters from expending pivotal energy with another uphill section to come.
With just 16.4km remaining, there is an uncategorised effort which is 3.9km in length. Although it is only around 3% on average, some of the pure sprinters may be unable to resist the tempo.
After this, the riders will descend swiftly into Nîmes which they enter with 5.8km left. The sprint teams must stay aware as with just over 2km remaining there is an important left turn. The road is narrow here which makes positioning even more important. However, the major moment in the final kilometres is a 90-degree right-hander with approximately 800 metres to go. Positioning here is pivotal. The road widens afterwards, and a large roundabout with just 300 metres left is the final obstacle. A technical finish means the eventual winner must be positioned well throughout.
Sonny Colbrelli. Image credit: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images
Caleb Ewan, Tim Merlier and Arnaud Démare have all left the Tour de France, meaning the sprinting field is heavily depleted. This opening will entice the remaining sprinters.
This stage has Peter Sagan’s name written all over it. Bora-hansgrohe put on a masterclass at the Giro d’Italia earlier this season when they dropped their closest rivals on the hills before leading Sagan to victory in Foligno. The German outfit may employ a similar tactic here.
The third category Côte du Belvédère de Tharaux could be the building block for them to kick on, but they may even wait for the final hill just before Nîmes. This strategy is riskier as the climb isn’t as demanding, therefore Cavendish has a greater chance of holding on. Conversely, this strategy means Bora would spend fewer resources as this section is much closer to the finish line.
Bora will not be alone in their wishes to push Cavendish out the back, particularly after the Manx Missile won his third Tour stage this year in Valence. Team BikeExchange and Bahrain - Victorious could well join Bora on the front to work for their respective leaders, Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli. Although both are fast finishers, they are also capable climbers so won’t mind a hasty rhythm when the road punches uphill. They must remove Mark Cavendish from the equation if they are to challenge for his green jersey.
It would take a valiant performance from Mark Cavendish to resist the hills and remain in the peloton, let alone win the stage in a mass-sprint. The Manx Missile suffered on Mont Ventoux but was able to finish within the time limit. However, Deceuninck have a great second option in the form of Davide Ballerini. Ballerini has displayed climbing skills before, notably at the Tour de la Provence where he sprinted to victory after a difficult uphill finish in Manosque. He hasn't been on top form at the Tour de France just yet, but if Cavendish is dropped, watch out for Ballerini.
Mathieu van der Poel and Tim Merlier have both left the Tour de France, which means Jasper Philipsen is the out and out leader for Alpecin-Fenix. He will get the chance here, though his leadout train has now been decimated. This makes the job of the remaining Jonas Rickaert and Silvan Dillier even more important.
France entered the Tour de France with various hopes in the sprints including Bryan Coquard and Arnaud Démare. Both were over the time limit on stage 9 though, which means the best French sprinter left is Nacer Bouhanni. The Arkea-Samsic rider has already recorded three podium finishes at the 2021 Tour, but he is still searching for his first stage victory at his home Grand Tour.
Wout van Aert was second in the mass sprint on stage 10, before winning stage 11 which featured two ascents of Mont Ventoux and 4,600 metres of climbing. Clearly, he is capable of winning on almost any terrain. Despite the colossal effort he expended yesterday, he could be a key challenger again in Nîmes.
Alex Aranburu and Magnus Cort are two fast men that could challenge in a reduced sprint, but may consider their best opportunity to lie in the breakaway.
With plenty of rolling terrain which will make the race more difficult to control, the breakaway may fancy their chances on stage 12. Depending on when and in what shape the breakaway forms, they just might be able to hold off the chasers.
Many of the classics specialists could seek stage victory from the break, namely Oliver Naesen, Greg Van Avermaet, Stefan Küng and Jasper Stuyven.
Although the stage could be explosive with many eyeing the breakaway, there are still plenty of teams with an interest in controlling the stage for a bunch finish. Alpecin-Fenix aren't one of the strongest teams left in the race and don't have the numbers to ride on the front all day, but they do have one of the fastest riders left in the race in the form of Jasper Philipsen. Philipsen has been in the top three four times already at the Tour de France this year, and we are backing him to win his first Tour stage in Nîmes.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet