Marc Hirschi bounced back from his earlier heartbreak with a magnificent solo win in Stage 12 of the ongoing Tour de France on the longest day of the race.
Twice denied a victory in the opening week of his maiden Grand Tour, Hirschi on Thursday benefitted from a Team Subweb masterclass to become the first Swiss stage winner of the Tour since Fabian Cancellara in 2012.
Hirschi, 22, used a softening attack from teammates Soren Kragh Andersen and Tiesj Benoot as a launchpad, zipping clear on the fourth and final categorised climb of the day with 28 leg-sapping kilometres remaining.
Despite a big effort from Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to ride back into contention, Hirschi kept his cool over the lumpy approach into Sarran to secure his first win as a professional in mesmerising style.
Hirschi finished 47 seconds clear of veteran Frenchman Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) before Danish teammate Kragh Andersen led a splintered chase group home with a punch of the air as he took third. With a third Sunweb rider, Ireland’s Nico Roche, also in the top 10, it was a case of job well done for a team that had been knocking on the door since the start of the 107th edition of the race.
Alaphilippe, who denied Hirschi in Stage 2 at Nice, came home a distant eleventh place after a mechanical in the closing kilometres, while Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) led the main field over the line 2’30” in arrears to slightly reduce his deficit to Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Deceninck-QuickStep) in their battle for the green jersey.
In the fight for yellow, there was no change as Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) retained his 21-second lead over the Colombian white jersey Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) ahead of Friday’s summit finish in the Massif Central.
But the day belonged to Hirschi, whose gutsy ride also saw him come to within five-points of the polka dot jersey currently being worn by Frenchman Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-La Mondiale).
“It’s unbelievable because I was two times close,” the Swiss said with reference to his near-misses in Stages 2 and 9. “Today I never believed I could make it but I went full gas for the last kilometres. It’s super nice. I can’t describe the feeling.
Asked if being beaten by Slovenians Tadej Pogacar and Roglic after his exploits in the Pyrenees had inspired him, Hirschi said: “The last results gave me lots of confidence because I knew I could do it. It gave me some extra power. Just to start the Tour was a dream, but to have a stage win so young is amazing.”