By Carlos de Torres
Sarran, France, Sep 10 (efe-epa).- Switzerland’s Marc Hirschi soloed to victory here Thursday to capture the first Tour de France stage of his young career, while Primoz Roglic retained the yellow jersey on another uneventful day for the General Classification hopefuls.
The 22-year-old Hirschi (Sunweb) achieved that coveted milestone – also his first professional victory – in his maiden Tour appearance, having earlier posted second- and third-place finishes in the second and ninth stages, respectively.
And he did so in commanding fashion, crossing the line in a time of five hours, eight minutes and 49 seconds, 47 seconds ahead of France’s Pierre Roland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) and 52 seconds faster than a group of six riders.
Slovenia’s Roglic and his top rivals for the leader’s yellow jersey – including countryman Tadej Pogacar and Colombians Egan Bernal, the defending champion; and veteran Nairo Quintana – were content to cruise home at a time that was 2:30 off of Hirschi’s pace.
For the third straight day – two flat stages in western France and Thursday’s hilly stage – there was no movement at the top of the General Classification as those riders now get ready for a return to the mountains.
Thursday’s Stage 12 from Chauvigny to Serran was the longest of this year’s Tour at a distance of 218 kilometers (135 miles) and was dedicated to beloved French cyclist Raymond Poulidor, who finished second at La Grande Boucle on three occasions and passed away last year at the age of 83.
A group that included this year’s three tallest cyclists – Nils Politt (Israel Start), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and 1.99-meter (6-foot-6) Max Walscheid (NTT Pro Cycling) – jumped out quickly, but the peloton reacted quickly and kept the time difference under three minutes.
The highlights of Thursday’s stage were two climbs toward the end of the route – Cote de la Croix du Pey and Suc au May. Spanish Movistar rider Marc Soler attacked on the first ascent, although Hirschi and four other riders also settled in as part of that breakaway group.
The Swiss cyclist then made his decisive move up the category-two Suc au May to take a lead of nearly 20 seconds over Soler and Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) as he was rolling over the crest.
Hirschi then further increased his lead with a fearless downhill push before staving off a couple of attacks in the final stretch by France’s Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who ended up finishing well off the pace in 11th place.
The Swiss rider finally got his reward Thursday after having had a pair of solo breakaways snuffed out in the second and ninth stages.
“It’s unbelievable. Two times, I’ve been really close. I never thought I could win today. I went full gas in the last few hundred meters. I can’t describe my feelings. I’m lost for words,” Hirschi was quoted as saying on the Tour de France’s official website.
Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and the other top contenders in the General Classification, meanwhile, are setting their sights on Friday’s Stage 13 – a 191.5-km medium mountain stage from Chatel-Guyon to Puy Mary.
“Tomorrow I believe it’ll be a day to make differences, for sure. It’s a stage with a lot of elevation gain. It’s long as well, with almost 200 km, and it comes after a 220 km long stage. It’ll be more demanding than today with an explosive finale to finish,” the defending champion said. EFE-EPA