Germany's Nils Politt won stage 12 of the Tour de France on Thursday after early winds helped a breakaway build up a convincing lead over the main pack in the Rhone Valley and foil the best laid plans of the sprinters.
An escape group finished the short, flat stage to Nimes more than 15min ahead of a resigned peloton, with the defending champion, UAE rider Tadej Pogacar, retaining his five-minute overall lead over a clutch of rivals.
"I felt good on the bike today, and in the coming stages I won't hold back if I see an opportunity," the Slovenian warned.
Stage winner Politt attacked from within a reduced group of 12 powerful riders who had defied the wind for a dominant solo victory.
"Directly after the start was the wind and it turned into a Tour de France win, it's unbelievable," said Politt, who rides for the Bora team.
"I attacked and opened up a gap from the other guys in the escape. This is my passion, and this is the biggest thing," he said referring to the stage win.
It was a sweet end to the day for Bora after a sore knee brought a premature end to the race of the team's seven-time green jersey winner Peter Sagan, with only 157 riders taking to the starting line in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateau on Thursday.
- Mock sprint from stone-faced Cavendish -
It was the first time the Slovak has failed to finish the 21-day, 3000km haul, but his absence freed up Politt.
"Peter not being in the race allowed me to go for it, it could be a moment that changes my life," said Politt, who came second the last time the gruelling Paris-Roubaix was run.
The escape scuppered an ideal scenario for the Mark Cavendish comeback roller-coaster.
While Cavendish himself refuses to talk about equalling Eddy Merckx's 35-year-old all-time record of 34 stage wins, it appeared to be a feasible scenario ahead of the stage.
When the peloton rolled into the red-roofed town of Nimes, the 'Manx Missile' made a statement of intent by racing to the head of the main pack in a mock sprint, which he easily won.
After a five-year barren patch on the Tour de France Cavendish is in a full blown Indian Summer following his last-minute call up to the Deceuninck roster at 36 years of age.
The Isle of Man rider has seized his chance with three stage wins for a cumulative tally of 33, leaving him a single stage short of Merckx's record.
Due to what organisers called 'favourable winds' the start was delayed by 15 minutes, and as soon as it did get going a northern wind blustering down the vineyard-filled Rhone Valley caused immediate breaks in the peloton.
Cavendish was always in the first group looking relaxed as stage 12 rolled through the magnificent Cevennes National Park, taking in the gorges of the Ardeche with its stone arch, the Pont d'Arc, and ending close to the Roman arena in Nimes on what was billed as the 2021 Tour's prettiest stage.