Germany’s Andre Greipel claimed his third victory of this year’s Tour de France as Bradley Wiggins of Britain held on to the yellow jersey at the end of the 13th stage.
Greipel, who rides for Lotto, finished just ahead of Slovakian sprint rival Peter Sagan (Liquigas) in a tight finish in which Wiggins astonishingly tried to set up Sky teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Norwegian Boasson Hagen could only finish third on the 217km stage, which began in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, but Wiggins said it was payback time.
“Edvald’s done a lot of work for me in the mountains, so we tried to pay him back by setting him up there at the finish,” the Englishman said.
Meanwhile, Greipel was quick to praise the teammates who kept him at the front for a tough, late climb, helped eliminate some of his rivals and set him up for the finish.
“I’m really happy with this victory,” said Greipel, one of the few sprinters able to successfully negotiate the Mont Saint Clair climb, whose summit was 20km from the finish.
“The team did a great job for me today. It’s amazing. You can be really happy with just one victory in the Tour de France, but this one is a bit special because of the Mont Saint Clair being there near the finish,” he added.
“We deserved this,” he said.
Despite a potentially treacherous finale because of crosswinds leading to Cap d’Agde, Wiggins stayed out of danger to retain his 2 minute, 5 seconds lead over teammate Chris Froome.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is still third at 2:23, while Australia’s defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) is fourth at 3:19.
Greipel won stages four and five in this year’s race and now has four in total, having claimed his maiden Tour stage last year.
His main sprint rival Mark Cavendish (Sky), the winner of 21 stages, but only one this edition, was one of a large bunch of riders left behind on the slopes of the Mont Saint Clair.
After an eight-man breakaway formed in the opening kilometers, they were allowed to go on and build a maximum lead of nine minutes on the peloton.
However, with the stage win and points for the green jersey at stake, and the potential danger to the overall victory contenders, it was not long before the peloton upped the pace.
The Orica-GreenEdge team of Australian sprinter Matt Goss hit the front and with 70km to race the leaders’ gap had dropped to just over two minutes.
Minutes later, Denmark’s Michael Morkov jumped away in the hope of taking his attack all the way to the finish in remembrance of his father, who died six years ago to the day.
However, the first slopes of the Saint Clair ended his hopes and the peloton, which had also reeled in his seven companions, soon powered past.
Evans surged ahead in a bid to distance Wiggins and his Sky team and, despite failing in his mission, his move caused a split, which left a select group at the front.
Wiggins said the move had not scared him.
“I don’t know if it was an attack, but it was far from the finish and I knew the climb because I’d raced it on the Midi Libre [race],” he said.
With 16km remaining Kazakh veteran Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) launched his attack and, with Goss one of the sprinters dropped, was soon joined by the Australian’s teammate Michael Albasini.
Their two-man bid was doomed by the sustained efforts of Greipel’s Lotto team.
Although the Belgian outfit came apart in the closing kilometer when Wiggins made a rare appearance to lead out Boasson Hagen, Greipel finished the job off in style thanks to a timely lift of his front wheel at the finish.