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FOUGERES, France (CT) – Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) has bounced back from the disappointment of two sprint defeats earlier in the week to win stage 7 of the Tour de France.
Cavendish bided his time in the bunch kick to the line, sprinting around the inside of a slight bend ahead of the finish to take Etixx-Quick-Step’s third stage win in seven days.
Points classification leader Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) was second on the stage after being overhauled by Cavendish, while Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) rounded out the podium, the Slovakian earning his fifth top-three result in seven stages.
“I’m really happy. I almost didn’t get it there — I waited too long and Greipel got the jump,” Cavendish said after the stage. “Technically he could have kept me boxed in — he could have moved over to the barriers but he stayed left to give me the gap and it shows the gentleman that he is.”
“If Sagan had been in Greipel’s position he would have closed me on the barriers but Greipel wanted a fair sprint so he stayed left and let me come through and sprint one-on-one.”
For Cavendish, it was a case of waiting for the opportune moment after missing out on victory on stage 2 and stage 5.
“I’ve just kind of been too anxious the last two times — I’ve gone too early,” Cavendish said. “Today was was about … not being impatient. I almost left it too long.”
Chris Froome (Sky) moves back into the overall lead after finishing safely in the bunch on stage 7. The stage had been contested without a rider in the leader’s yellow jersey after incumbent maillot jaune Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) crashed in the final kilometre of stage 6 and didn’t begin stage 7.
For Froome, being back in yellow is “an honour” but one that, he argues, won’t change much for him and his Sky teammates.
“Being in yellow gives the whole team a big boost, a lot of motivation and more reason to stay at the front and out of trouble, ” Froome said. “But not a lot is going to change because we really have that mentality already.
“We’ve really been quite proactive with doing more work than normal to try and stay safe.”
How it unfolded
Bright sunshine welcomed the riders to the small town of Livarot in France’s north west as stage 7 of the 2015 Tour de France got underway. From the gun it was a five-rider group that got up the road: Kristjian Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis), Anthony Delaplace, Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) and newly crowned mountains classification leader Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka).
Teklehaimanot extended his narrow lead in the KOM classification by a single point when he was first over the fourth-category Cote de Canapville climb just 12.5km into the stage. Meanwhile the five-rider lead group continued to build an advantage, getting as much as 3:50 ahead of the peloton after 30km of the 190.5km stage.
The day’s intermediate sprint came in the town of Argentan after 65.5km, enticing the big sprinters to emerge from the peloton for the points on offer. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) took sixth place as first of the main field over the line, followed by Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish.
After six tough days of racing, riders in the peloton appeared to relish the opportunity for an easier day. They let the five leaders have their time in the warm summer sun, keeping the gap within a couple of minutes for the next few hours.
“You could feel it today — everyone just started to relax a little bit more in the bunch and it was a great feeling actually, ” race leader Chris Froome said after the stage. “It’s amazing just to look around the peloton and see how many people are riding around with bandages and bleeding through their shorts and everything.
“It really has been crazy this first week. We’re definitely getting the feeling that it is starting to calm down now.”
With nearly 120km completed and 72km still to race the gap had dropped to within one minute. With Lotto Soudal and Etixx-Quick-Step on the front, the five-leaders were just 46 seconds clear with 50km to race.
Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar came to the party inside the final 40km as the gap wound down further, before Teklehaimanot was dropped from the break as the leaders started to attack one another.
Sky and BMC started to make their presence felt at the front of the peloton inside 25km to go, riding to keep their respective leaders, Chris Froome and Tejay van Garderen, out of trouble.
There was a sense of urgency in the then-four-rider-strong lead group as they tried to hold off the chasing peloton, but their efforts were in vain. Feillu and Mate were the last to be caught, getting wrapped up with 11km to go.
Inside the last 5km it was the familiar sight of Etixx-Quick-Step, Giant-Alpecin and Lotto Soudal driving at the front, keeping the pace high for Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb and Andre Greipel respectively.
FDJ, too, came to the fore with 2km to race as the bunch fractured slightly around one of five roundabouts in the closing kilometres of the race. The bunch more or less came back together on approach to the final kilometre as Lotto Soudal tried to set things up for Greipel.
Going into the final 500m Katusha had the most impressive lead-out, with Alexander Kristoff sitting in a perfect position. But the Norwegian appeared to be caught by surprise when Andre Greipel dashed around his left-hand side and got a gap.
Cavendish and Sagan bumped shoulders as they tried to follow Greipel before Cavendish moved up the inside to get a gap. Sagan again finished fast, but he was unable to catch Cavendish who sped across the line, raising his arms and yelling in an apparent combination of relief and joy.
The day ahead
The Tour de France continues tomorrow with a 181.5km stage from Rennes to the Mur de Bretagne. The stage-ending, third-category climb is 2km long at 6.9% but averages close to 10% for the first half.
Chris Froome is back in the yellow jersey for a second stage and while he isn’t familiar with the Mur de Bretagne, he expects to see further changes on the general classification by the end of tomorrow’s stage.
“From what I can understand it’s not going to be a selective as the Mur de Huy earlier this week,” Froome said. “[But] in the past there have been gaps between GC contenders [on the climb] so that’s certainly going to be on everyone’s mind.”
Andre Greipel’s second place on today’s stage was enough to see the German extend his lead in the points classification and Peter Sagan, who sits second overall, still leads the best young rider classification.
Daniel Teklehaimanot will tomorrow spend a second day in the king of the mountains jersey and BMC continues to lead the teams classification.
Tour de France (2.UWT) Livarot → Fougères
BMC Racing Team