The third straight day in the mountains at the Tour de France ended with a summit finish up the iconic Plateau de Beille, one of the hardest climbs of the Pyrenees.
While a breakaway animated for the stage 12 win, the battle for GC played out in exciting fashion behind – it was a day of two distinct races and both gave a thrilling show.
Bauke Mollema again showed superb climbing form, staying with the small select yellow jersey group until a few kilometers remained of the grueling mountain stage. However, the ruthless attacks by Valverde, Quintana, and Nibali to try and break Chris Froome’s stranglehold on the race finally became Mollema’s undoing, and he slipped off the back.
I stay in 10th but it looks different now in front of me; [Tony] Gallopin is in reach, which is nice. It’s a shame I lost that minute…
Mollema battled a stiff wind in the last three kilometers and ultimately lost just over a minute’s time to the group of GC favorites, however it was still enough to decrease the gaps in the leaderboard to the few spots ahead of him.
“It sucks that the little gap I opened grew,” explained Mollema. “I could keep the group at 50 meters, but the headwind did me in. I was so done in the last kilometer.
“I stay in 10th, but it looks different now in front of me; [Tony] Gallopin is in reach now, which is nice. It’s a shame I lost that minute…
“I knew the climb more or less, I did it in 2011 and we did it in training. I knew the last 3kms were less steep and then it’s always better to be in a group when it is really windy. Being alone the last 4K made it really hard.”
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was the strongest of the early 22-man breakaway that escaped in the 195-kilometer race to take a well-earned victory.
The yellow jersey group numbering nine finished together nearly seven minutes later; after three long, punishing mountain passes no one could shake Froome and the top six rungs of the leaderboard remained deadlocked.
Haimar Zubeldia was a big force in stage 12 for Bauke Mollema.
Bauke Mollema lauded praise on teammate Bob Jungels, 22, who had been battling sickness earlier in the week but showed his normal spark today by leading Mollema into prime position for the final decisive climb.
Mollema: “I started in a really good position, I was with the top five going into the climb after Bob did a really good job. We knew the first part was steep and we were there, and that was good. It was raining full gas, and it was a really hard, steep climb, but the legs felt quite good and I could stay with the top 10 riders until the last four kilometers.
“When the attacks went the first were okay, but the last one was too much for me and I lost maybe 50 meters. For 1km, I held a gap and was trying to come back but I couldn’t. That was a pity because I could have maybe still been in the first group with the GC guys, but with the headwind I cracked. I was totally empty in the last three kilometers.”
The race started under hot, sunny weather, but the ending was drastically different: rain and hail plummeted the temperature to a chilling 15 degrees (Celsius) at the top of the Plateau de Beille. But with the final 16 kilometers entirely uphill it did not pose any difficulty, said Mollema.
“The rain was not too bad when you are going uphill and it only started for the last 25kms. It was not the weather we were expecting after starting with 35 degrees (Celsius), but in the end it was chilly at the top but it was not a big problem.
And after the last of three tough stages in the Pyrenees, Mollema remained diplomatic:
“It was three hard stage in the Pyrenees, and after a not so good first day I am still 10th. It will be interesting to see what happens in the Alps, and I will try to move up. One bad day can do a lot, for me, but also for the others.”