Stage 14 of the 2012 Tour de France started with a tailwind that kept the pace high, making it difficult for a break to form. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) tried at 170kms to go, but he was caught. By the start of the first climb, no break had formed.
On the slopes of the Cat-2 Col du Portel, Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) was next to attack. Thomas Voeckler answered with one kilometer left to climb. While Taaramae was caught, Voeckler managed to take maximum points over the climb.
By the descent, the peloton had split in two groups, with the rear group including Frank Schleck and Andreas Kloden (RadioShack). At one point, they were two minutes behind the main group, but they were able to recatch through the valley.
At the front of the race, Sagan once again attacked. He was joined by Sergio Paulinho (SaxoBank) and Kruijswijk (Rabobank). Once this trio pushed out thirty seconds, a counter attack bridged to the leaders, including Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel), Sebastien Minard (AG2R), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Sandy Casar (FdJ), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), and Martin Velits (Omega Pharma- QuickStep). Eventually this group of 11 pushed a gap out over 16 minutes.
At the intermediate sprint, Sagan led the break across the line while Greipel led the field through, 13.04.
By the start of the Port de Lers, the leaders had a 14.28 advantage. Paulinho took the points as the rain began to fall. On the descent, Gautier had a mechanical and had to chase back to the break. He was able to catch them just as the leaders started the final climb of the day, the Mur de Peguere.
At the steepest part of the climb, Rabobank took to the pace-setting of the break which allowed Sanchez to attack. He was caught by Gilbert, Casar, and Izagirre. Sagan fought to remain in contact and to bridge to the quad. In the peloton, Mark Cavendish did most of the pace-setting for Sky until Team BMC and Lotto started to move forward protecting their GC men.
Once Sagan caught the back of the leaders, Casar moved forward to increase the pace. This resulted in him taking maximum points on the climb. On the descent, however, he was re-caught by Sagan and Izagirre. The Frenchman later said,
“Sagan is incredible – we tried on the climb but we couldn’t shake him off.”
When they hit the steep part of the climb, the peloton started getting ready for attacks. Evans was first, but he was reeled by Ivan Basso (Liquigas). As the pace of the GC contenders increased, men were dropping out of the back of the peloton.
On the top of the climb, Evans suffered a puncture and had no teammate near him immediately. By the time a teammate finally reached him, that wheel was also flat! So, it took nearly a minute to work out a bike for Evans, and when he finally got one, he had to stop again to have the bike adjusted. It looked like Sky wanted to wait for Evans, but Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked the peloton. This prompted a response from Liquigas and Lotto-Belisol. Vincenzo Nibali explained,
“Our objective was to go and bring Rolland back because he could be a dangerous rider in the coming stages and we didn’t want to give him too much leeway, but we moved away from the front as soon as we had caught him”
On the descent, there were quite a few other punctures and mechanicals and crashes, including another for Evans, Wiggins puncture, Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) puncture, and Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) who crashed and had to abandon.
Up front, the five riders came together just in time for Sanchez to reattack with 11kms to go. He slowly opened up the gap, pushing his cap up over 30 seconds. Meanwhile, as reports of tacks on the road spread, Evans and BMC had to try to minimize their losses. Evans’ American teammate George Hincapie described the situation as follows:
“There was clearly something on the road, probably on the climb or just after. Everyone was flatting. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Once Rolland was caught by the Wiggins group, the remaining main field slowed down to assist those who lost time from the mechanicals in their quest to regroup.
In the end, however, Luis Leon Sanchez was able to solo to victory, 47 seconds over his Sagan-led break companions. Sanchez said of his tactics today:
”I had three stage wins in other Tours and this year the race turned hard from the first day and it looked like it would be impossible. But when you fight you can get things done. We have only four riders in the race but when you want it, in the end, you can get the victory. Sagan can win any sprint in the Tour, so today, in a break with so few people, he would have won easily. I attacked from far out and everything went right.”
The field finished over 18 minutes later, but there was no change on GC.