Norway’s Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory on stage 12 of the Tour de France as Vincenzo Nibali retained his overall lead.

Katusha rider Kristoff emerged from behind Omega Pharma – Quick-Step’s lead-out train with 250m to go and held off second-placed Peter Sagan and third-placed Arnaud Demare to claim the first Tour stage victory of his career.

Nibali followed in the peloton to retain his 2min 23sec advantage over second-placed Richie Porte in the general classification, with Alejandro Valverde remaining 2min 47sec back in third.

“It’s a great feeling," Kristoff said. "I have been dreaming about this since I was a child and to finally achieve it is amazing. I have had some second places, but now it’s nice to be in first place.

“I lost my team-mates. I was just sitting on [Matteo] Trentin in the last 500m and waiting and waiting. Then I saw [John] Degenkolb starting so I thought, 'OK, I must start also now'. I was so happy when I see they cannot pass me.”

Stage 12, the race’s final day before it enters the Alps on Friday, contained four categorised climbs, but a downhill and then flat run to the finish meant a bunch sprint was likely.

A five-man breakaway was whittled down to just one when Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) surged clear of his fellow escapees on the day’s final climb, the category-four Cote de Grammond, and although he went over the summit solo, he was soon caught on the descent by Europcar duo Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quemeneur, who had attacked out of the peloton.

Quemeneur dropped off when the road flattened out with 8km remaining, and Clarke and Gautier soon followed after failing to resist the charging sprint teams in the peloton.

Giant-Shimano and Omega Pharma – Quick-Step dominated proceedings on the run to the line, but Kristoff proved shrewd in his choice of wheels to follow and was fast enough to deny Peter Sagan, who now has eight top-five finishes in this year’s race but still no win.

Nibali, who enjoyed a largely trouble-free stage, said: “There isn’t a quiet day at the Tour. The pace was great and we stayed at the front and tried to control it.”

Nibali will now turn his attentions to defending his lead on stages 13 and 14, which end with summit finishes at the ski resorts of Chamrousse and Risoul respectively.

“The Alps will be very tough,” he added. “Tomorrow and the next day are really important stages for this year’s Tour de France. I am just going to try to keep my [yellow] jersey.”