On a day when many wondered if Mark Cavendish could equal Eddy Merckx’s record by winning his 34th Tour de France stage, it was instead the turn of Nils Politt to take his first as a breakaway prospered in Nimes.
This 159-kilometre stage 12 from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux looked tailor-made for a sprint on paper, but that did not account for the gusting Mistral, which would split the peloton at the start and allow a powerful 13-man group to get away.
The 27-year-old Politt emerged with the biggest victory of his career to date, forcing splits in the break and then riding clear of Harry Sweeny and Imanol Erviti with 12km to go.
Cavendish, who moved on to 33 stage wins with his third of this year’s race in Valence on Tuesday, led home the main peloton some 16 minutes later, padding his lead in the green jersey by picking up the final three points on the line, while Tadej Pogacar retained yellow.
The Slovenian continues to lead overall by five minutes and 18 seconds from Rigoberto Uran,.
Politt’s victory will have cheered his Bora-Hansgrohe team after their three-time former world champion Peter Sagan was forced to withdraw before the stage start with a knee injury.
“It’s a dream to win a stage of the Tour de France,” Politt said. “Today we heard Peter had to leave the race with knee problems so that changed our tactics. At the start with the crosswinds, it was a big group that got away.”
Cavendish might have known it was not to be his day when organisers failed to deliver the green skinsuit he favours, forcing him to ride in a less aerodynamic jersey.
Though there was no sprint, the Manxman could be grateful for a less stressful day after the double ascent of Mont Ventoux on Wednesday.
“I think most guys were (grateful) to be fair,” the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider said. “But it’s still heavy roads around Provence, you stick to the tarmac. ”