Simon Yates wins first Pyrenean Tour de France stage

Britain's Simon Yates celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the twelfth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 209,5 kilometers (130 miles) with start in Toulouse and finish in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, France, Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Thibault Camus/AP)

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France — British rider Simon Yates posted his first Tour de France stage win on Thursday after a long breakaway in the Pyrenees mountains.

Yates, who won the Spanish Vuelta last year, launched a counterattack behind a group of fugitives in a technical downhill and was joined at the front by Gregor Muhlberger and Pello Bilbao.

The trio worked well together until the final sprint shaped up 200 metres from the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Yates launched the sprint, was first into the last turn and held off Bilbao for the victory.

"I wasn’t very confident in beating them," said Yates. "I didn’t know how fast these two riders were but my sport director told me to take the last corner in first position and I’m glad it worked out well. To have a stage at all three Grand Tours makes me very proud."

As the Tour hit high mountains with a stage featuring two first-category climbs, the main favourites closely watched each other and did not attack, saving strength for the super hard days still to come. The main pack of contenders crossed the finish line 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind the winner, with no major change in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe kept the race leader’s yellow jersey ahead of Friday’s time trial in Pau, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas.

Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.

Yates is working in support of his brother Adam at the three-week race and had kept a low profile until now.

"This was probably a unique opportunity for me," Yates said. "My main goal is to help Adam in the mountains and we thought that wouldn’t be needed today, that’s why I took the breakaway."

The peloton rode at full speed in the first hour of racing and it took more than 40 kilometres before a group of 40 riders managed to move clear of the pack. Sonny Colbrelli and Lilian Calmejane attacked from that group at the foot of the Col de Peyresourde, a classic twisting ramp at the Tour through a picturesque valley.

Yates then made his move in the Peyresourde downhill, reaching a maximum speed of 94.3 kph (58.6 mph). He was as impressive in the day’s final ascent, the Hourquette d’Ancizan, and was joined at the front by Muhlberger before Bilbao jumped across to them on the descent to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

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