Alexander Kristoff won a fraught Stage 12 of the 2014 Tour de France. The Katusha team member outlasted Peter Sagan, who looked like a favourite to take this stage.
But it was Kristoff who made the most of a late peloton sprint to claim victory. Timing was everything for Kristoff, and he got it just right to leave the unfortunate Sagan trailing:
But before Kristoff's late show, there was plenty of entertainment between riders from Europcar and Garmin-Sharp.
The race between Australian rider Simon Clarke and Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld had highlighted many of the previous moments of this stage. Langeveld had been bravely resisting dogged attempts from Clarke to chase him down and pass him.
The battle between this pair was a real joy throughout. Certainly, neither rider stood on ceremony.
That was obvious when Clarke staked himself into a late lead after Langeveld had taken a breather to quench his thirst.
But even after leaving Langeveld trailing, Clarke had to withstand a furious pursuit from Europcar rider Cyril Gautier and his fellow team member, Perrig Quemeneur.
It was Gautier who provided the more resilient challenge. He stuck close to Clarke while the pair built a comfortable lead.
However, as can often happen on this tour, seemingly serene progress to the finishing line was erased in a matter of seconds. It happened to Clarke once the peloton sprint began.
Meanwhile, Stage 11 winner Tony Gallopin's efforts were a lot more pedestrian. He laboured near the rear over much of the later ground of this stage.
Here are the classification results following Stage 12:
|1||Alexander Kristoff||Team Katusha||4:32:11|
|4||Michael Albasinis||Orica Greenedge||+0|
Despite the thrill of the late sprint between Kristoff and Sagan, Thursday's events have done little to alter the overall leaderboards. Sagan won't be smarting too much, as the Cannondale rider still leads the green jersey points classification after another day of intelligent route work:
|2||Bryan Coquard||Team Europcar||189|
|3||Alexander Kristoff||Team Katusha||172|
|4||Marcel Kittel||Team Giant-Shimano||167|
|5||Mark Renshaw||Omega Pharma-Quick Step||118|
Sagan's lead in the green jersey standings looks unassailable at this point. He will likely still rue his missed opportunity in Saint-Etienne, but this leaderboard ought to cheer him up.
Sagan will probably try to cultivate greater finishing speed to try to take the next stage after his latest near-miss. That would certainly boost Cannondale's overall chances.
Meanwhile, the yellow jersey standings still have a settled look about them as the tour nears the forbidding Alps:
|1||Vincenzo Nibali||Astana Pro Team||51:31:34|
|2||Richie Porte||Team Sky||51:33:27|
|3||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte||Movistar Team||51:34:21|
|4||Romain Bardet||AG2R La Mondiale||51:34:35|
From here on, the mental aspect will take over for each of the leading riders. That's only natural when considering the mountainous terrain is about to make the route a lot more physically draining.
It will be the steady hands of the savvy riders that decide the outcome. For now, though, Kristoff gets to bask in his well-deserved inaugural stage win.