TEMPERATURES in the mid 30s and fast-paced attacks tested all riders in Thursday's 12th stage of the Tour de France.
Central Victorian cycling star Zak Dempster went into the 185km duel from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Etienne confident of being in the sprint finish.
It did not pan out that way for the NetApp-Endura rider as Norway's Alexander Kristoff won the sprint ahead of Slovakia's Peter Sagan and French star Arnaud Demare.
Although he did not crash, Dempster's charge in the peloton was slowed dramatically by another fall.
"Felt better today. Made it over the climbs but got stuck behind the crash at 4km to go. Two big days coming up now!" Dempster tweeted after another dramatic stage.
He finished 2.24 minutes behind Kristoff.
Among the many highlights was the daring attack by Australia's Simon Clarke.
The Orica GreenEdge rider was among a five-man breakaway that spent most of the day in front, but was gradually whittled down to Clarke on his own.
Clarke was caught by Frenchmen Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quemeneur with 20km left, but they were all reeled in with 5km to go.
Clarke finished the stage 6.23 behind Kristoff.
NetApp-Endura's David de la Cruz Melgarejo broke his collarbone in a fall in the breakaway and is out of the race.
"How luck can change in one second, in the break to in the ambulance. Feeling for @delacruz_sbd," Dempster tweeted.
In the Tour standings, Dempster is 156th at 2:10.20 behind Italy's Vincenzo Nibali. Tasmania's Richie Porte is second overall.
On Friday the field will race 197.5km from Saint-Etienne. Stage 13 features the Category 1 Palaquit pass and 18km ascent to Chamrousse.