Saxo Tinkoff answered the question of how they would try to beat Chris Froome in this year’s Tour de France with a spontaneous but devastating attack on the windswept roads to Saint-Amand-Montrond on the 13th stage of the race, won by Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
After the peloton had been divided into three echelons in the crosswinds across the centre of France by Belkin and Omega Pharma-Quickstep, the team of Alberto Contador hit the front en masse with 31km to go and forced a crucial split that saw race leader Froome lose touch with the front of the race.
Saxo-Tinkoff, who had six riders in the 14 man front group, piled on the pressure and finished one minute and nine seconds ahead of the yellow jersey, giving Contador, Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang and Belkin riders Laurens Ten Dam and Bauke Mollema a vital lifeline ahead of the upcoming mountain stages.
“At about 30km to go, the wind was coming from our left hand side and most of the teams were tired, and our whole team was at the front,” explained Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Rogers. “I looked at Daniele Bennati and he looked at me, we kind of nodded at each other and no words were said, we just knew the time had come, and we went.”
Bennati and Rogers escaped with Roman Kreuziger, Matteo Tossato, Nicolas Roche and Alberto Contador. By the time they entered the final 5km of the stage, they had contributed over 90% of the work on the front as they sought to build as big a lead for their team leader as possible.
“I saw Michael and I said, ‘Michael, Michael come on,’” said Roche. “He looked around, saw Alberto, Alberto gave the nod, we shouted ‘Bennati go!’ and off we went. It was something that was decided in three seconds.
“We were very focussed,” he added. “We were saying ‘stick together guys, come on, let’s do it,’ the usual; what you’d be saying in the changing room at half time in a soccer match.
“Alberto kept encouraging us on the radio too, and then when we saw the gap go out and stabilising we were just giving it everything we had without thinking.”
Rogers, whose efforts meant he crawled onto the team bus at the end of the stage, described the day as one of his hardest in his Tour de France career: “worse than a mountain day.”
As well as clawing back over a minute for Contador and Kreuziger, who now sit 2-45 and 2-49 behind Froome in third and fourth respectively, Rogers believed the move struck an important psychological blow on a beleaguered and weakened Sky team.
“We said we’d attack in the second part of the race and today was the first time we attacked,” he said. “There’s still a bit of a time buffer with Froome but we clawed back a little bit today and we’ll try again.
“There are a lot more hard days and we’ll try and try, and we’re not gonna give up without fighting, that’s for sure.”