Nicki SORENSEN (DEN)Â©Â A.S.O.
It took a long time to establish the escape group but once it was gone, the seven men represented had to consider their approach. The two at the top of the climbing classification â€“ Egoi Martinez and Franco Pellizotti â€“ led the break over each hill but when it came time to contest the stage win, only Nicki Sorensen looked convincing. The 34-year-old earned his first stage victory in the Tour de France after attacking his cohorts 23km from the line and then surging again when Sylvain Calzati failed to contribute enough pace to his move. The Danish rider reached the line in Vittel a convincing winner while the peloton was content to let the sprinters battle for the remnants of pointsâ€¦ and Cavendish duly dealt with Hushovd, albeit almost six minutes behind the winner.
The Progress Report
Bright sun and blue skies were the order of the day for the 12th stage of the 2009 Tour de France from Tonnerre to Vittel. The official start was at 12.39pm with 169 riders at the sign-on. The non-starter was Faria Da Costa (GCE) who tore ligments in his shoulder in a crash during stage 11. At 211.5km, the stage to Vittel is the second longest stay of the 96th edition and it included six low-ranked hills with the first five ranked cat-4 and the final one cat-3. Points for the polka-dot jersey were awarded at the cote de Baon (19km), cote de Gye-de-Seine (55km), cote dâ€™Essoyes (64.5km), cote des Grands-Bois (150km), cote de Morlaix (156.5km) and cote de Bourmont (170.5km). The intermediate sprints were in Channes (32km), Longchamp-su-Aujon (90km) and St-Thiebault (169km).
Cavendish Starts Chasing Intermediate Sprints
The opening phase of the 12th stage was raced at a rapid pace. Although there were many escape attempts none succeeded before the first climb. Millar (GRM) led Bennati and Pellizotti (LIQ) to the top of the first climb. Millar tried to continue his attack after the Baon climb and was joined by Bennati and Lequatre (AGR) but they were caught at 22km.
Regularly throughout the 2009 Tour, Cavendish (THR) has said that he would not contest intermediate sprints â€“ opting instead to collect points in stage finishes â€“ but he led Hushovd (CTT) to the line in Channes and increased his advantage in the race for the green jersey. At 41km, 11 escaped, including: Lancaster, Larsson (SAX), Garate (RAB), Vaugrenard (FDJ), Moinard (COF), Bonnet (BBO) and Pineau (QST). They were caught at 46km with Astana leading the pelotonâ€™s pursuit. The average speed for the opening hour was 47.9km/h. Pellizotti (LIQ) led Martinez (EUS) and team-mate Kreuziger over the second climb.
Seven (Finally) Escape Peloton
At 64km, Lefevre (BBO) began an attack; he was chased down by Pellizotti (LIQ), Martinez (EUS), Pauriol (COF), Calzati (AGR) and Fothen (MRM). They were chased momentarily by a group that included A. Schleck (SAX), Evans (SIL), Leipheimer (AST) and Astarloza (EUS). The counter-attack was caught around the 73km mark after gaining about 10â€ť on the peloton. At 75km, N. Sorensen bridged to the six leaders and by 82km this group of seven was 1â€™00â€ť ahead. This is when the peloton finally called a truce and by 83km the advantage had grown to 2â€™00â€ť. By 85km the seven led by 3â€™00â€ť. The average for the second hour was 45.7km/h.
As the peloton exited the feedzone (111.5km) it was 4â€™20â€ť behind. AG2R was in control of the pacesetting duties. The average speed for the third hour was 36.7km/h.
Once the escape was established, Pellizotti led over each climb. He is now ranked second in the mountains classification.
Sorensen Launches Off For Victory
With 23km to go, Sorensen attacked the lead group. Calzati chased him down and 15km from the finish they led the five by 15â€ť and the peloton by 5â€™00â€ť. The maximum gain of the two escapees before Sorensen surged again (5.5km from the finish) was 15â€ť on the five chasers. Sorensen then raced on to victory, leading by 20â€ť with 4km to go. He increased his advantage as his fellow fugitives failed to respond. By the end the Danish rider was 48â€ť ahead and gave his Saxo Bank itâ€™s second stage victory this year and Sorensenâ€™s first in the Tour.
Evans (SIL) and Leipheimer (AST) were amongst a group that crashed in the final few kilometers but appeared to be uninjured; both finished the stage and were awarded the same time as Cavendish. Nocentini finished in 48th in the same time as Cavendish who led home the peloton 5â€™58â€ť behind Sorensen. The Italian will wear the yellow jersey in stage 13.
After seven days in the lead of the Tour de France, Nocentini has matched the tally of yellow jerseys collected by compatriots Mario Cipollini and Marco Pantani. Heâ€™s happy about this goal but seems to believe his tenure as leader may soon be overâ€¦
â€śToday was not an easy stage. We rode the first two hours at an incredible speed then the seven rider break took off with Sorensen the most dangerous overall. It was okay for us but the team worked a lot at the beginning and managed to keep a gap of around two minutes. We were then catching on the help of the sprinters teams but that never came and we stopped chasing.
â€śI hope tomorrow will be an easier day and that we can work with the Astana team. Iâ€™m very proud to be at the level of Cipollini and Pantani because when I retire from racing, this will be in the history books.â€ť
At the finish of stage 12, Egoi Martinez waited for another polka-dot jersey after having been in the escape group for 140km. The reigning King of the Mountains admitted that the priority of yet another attack in the 2009 Tour was to try and achieve a stage win.
â€śI hope that the legs of Franco Pellizotti are not always as good as what weâ€™ve seen in the last few days because heâ€™s always so fast. If he keeps going like this, itâ€™s going to be too hard for me to keep the polka-dot jersey. There were some climbing points on offer but we were also considering the stage win. That was the bigger goal today. But with Nicki Sorensen there, it was just not possible. He came up alone to the break and if a guy can do that on his own, then heâ€™s a very good rider!
â€śIâ€™m not frustrated. Iâ€™m actually riding better than ever so I only hope that my legs are always like this. Iâ€™ve been working a lot and I donâ€™t know how long Iâ€™ll be able to keep going like this.â€ť
Heâ€™s won two Danish national championships and a stage of the Vuelta a EspaĂ±a but Nicki Sorensen admits that those victories have been eclipsed. He realizes that heâ€™s a veteran of the Saxo Bank team yet his legs served him well; they carried him up to an escape group that formed after two frantic hours of racing and then onward to a convincing solo victory in Vittel.
â€śThere were a lot of attacks in the beginning. It was extremely hard and we saw some really good bike racing. I was glad and lucky that I could go up to the group that had gone a little bit earlier than me. They were all working perfectly together and it was a good group to be part of.
â€śBefore this, my biggest victory was a stage in the Vuelta a Espana but now Iâ€™ve triumphed here and thatâ€™s very pleasing. Iâ€™m extremely happy.
â€śIâ€™m 34 years old now and itâ€™s a big thing for me to perform at this level at this age. I started bike racing when I was 19 and I always hoped that I could maybe go on for many years and I think it shows today that it is possible.
â€śThe catalyst for my attack with 20 kilometers to go was mainly because we had Pellizotti in the group and heâ€™s extremely fast in the sprint. He would probably be unbeatable from our selection so I wanted to go pretty early and make the race hard. In the final straight I had the red car behind me so I couldnâ€™t really see how far it was to the other guys but at the end I was really nervous but it all worked out well.â€ť
Eighth place was taken by Cavendish who beat Hushovd in the sprint at the head of the peloton.
Evans (SIL) is one rider who has been caught up in a crash in the final kilometers. He is not injured and the bunch is home 6’00" behind the stage winner.
It took 64km before any escape was able to gain an advantage on the peloton at the start of the 12th stage. But once they were gone, there was no looking back. Sorensen rode the final 5.5km alone and arrived at the finish in Vittel a convincing winner. The top seven in the stage is:
1. Nicki Sorensen (DEN) SAX - 211.5km in 4h52’24 (43.399km/h)
2. Laurent Lefevre (FRA) BBO at 48"
3. Franco Pellizotti (ITA) LIQ at 48"
4. Markus Fothen (GER) MRM at 48"
5. Egoi Martinez (ESP) EUS at 48"
6. Sylvain Calzati (FRA) AGR at 48"
7. Remi Pauriol (FRA) COF at 1’33"
Just like the last two times when a stage has concluded in Vittel, the winner arrived at the finish alone. Nicki Sorensen has given Saxo Bank its second stage victory of the 2009 Tour de France.
Nicki Sorensen is about to take the victory in Vittel. He has not won a stage of the Tour before but he responded to the sound of opportunity knocking at the start of the day.