The Tour de France left the Alps on Friday to join Saint-Etienne, but this stage 13 was far from being a transition day. After a tough battle, Stefan Küng managed to make a gap at the start in order to take the lead and get into the right breakaway. Although he fought hard to stay away from the bunch with his companions up front, he was unfortunately unable to follow the decisive move with twelve kilometres to go. On the line, he then had to settle for fourth place, thirty seconds behind winner Mads Pedersen.
From Bourg d’Oisans to Saint-Etienne, the fight was set to be furious under particularly hot temperatures this Thursday. Stage 13’s intermediate profile had everything to create a lively race. “This morning, we were thinking that the breakaway could make it”, said Philippe Mauduit. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy as all the sprinters’ teams were going to pull today since it was one of their few remaining chances. Several guys could try to join the break, and Stefan was one of them”. As expected, the battle was fierce in the first, downhill kilometres. The decision was therefore made in the first climb, after thirty kilometres, and it just came down to legs. Stefan Küng was up there, together with Filippo Ganna and Matteo Jorgenson. “I’ve been struggling a bit on this Tour de France for twelve days,” he said. “I caught Covid just after the Tour de Suisse, and I haven’t got back my best legs since then. Today however, I was going well at the start of the stage, so I told myself: let’s go for it”. “He put on a real performance to create the breakaway,” said Philippe. The trio managed to take a twenty-second lead as various counterattacks followed one another in the bunch. The two time trial specialists and the young American, however, stayed the course, and only four men eventually joined them after almost fifty kilometres of racing: Quinn Simmons, Mads Pedersen, Hugo Houle and Fred Wright.
“When there are opportunities, we must try to seize them”, Philippe Mauduit
However, the intensity did not decrease since various teams immediately wanted to keep the breakaway at just two minutes. Quite a power struggle established over the entire stage between the two groups. Shortly after halfway, the leading group increased the pace again, and the peloton let it go a first time while entering the last hour of racing. BikeExchange-Jayco then tried to take over, but it was too late. The fugitives therefore tackled the last slightly uphill section into Saint-Etienne knowing they would fight for victory. The fight actually resumed twelve kilometres from the line, on the last slopes of the day, and Mads Pedersen managed to break away with Fred Wright and Hugo Houle. Stefan Küng was forced to let them go. “We were three in the front for a long time, and these three were dropped at the end”, pointed out Stefan. “We spent a lot of energy, and since I’m not at 100% yet, it wasn’t enough to get the win. Just before Pedersen’s attack, Frédéric Guesdon told me to be attentive. I tried to follow him, but he had super legs, and I came too short. I couldn’t catch back the wheels”. Two trios formed in the final, and the first one cooperated well enough to prevent the second one from returning. Mads Pedersen claimed victory as Stefan Küng outsprinted Matteo Jorgenson and Filippo Ganna for fourth. “This is still a great performance for Stefan”, said Philippe Mauduit. “We also witnessed a great team around David in the back, like usual. When there are opportunities, we must try to seize them because there are not many in the Tour de France. There was one today. We will see for the upcoming days”.
On Friday, David Gaudu finished in the bunch and retained his seventh place overall. “It was a transition stage on paper, but we always knew that many riders wanted to upset the sprinters’ plans, and they succeeded”, said the man from Brittany. “My goal was to hang on as much as possible without spending too much energy. It was still a very hard stage, and it will leave its mark”. On Saturday, the riders will head towards Mende with a top-finish on the famous Côte de la Croix-Neuve (2.9 km at 10.5%). “The last time, in 2018, there was some damage between the GC favourites”, said David. “I already know that Pogacar will attack from the bottom to try to gain back some time. We’ll need to be mentally ready for the start and the final fight”.