An unusual event happened today, in that there was a crash before the race had even begun. One of the big name favourites, Alberto Contador, was off his bike in the pre-race neutralized zone; Robert Gesink also hit the deck. Given that the point of the neutral zone is to get riders safely out of crowded city streets, and that it’s also in part a procession for the massive crowds that gather to see the riders off, Bertie will be forgiven for having a bit of a red face. The beginning of the stage was also notable for the absence of Tony Martin; as expected, the yellow jersey was out of the tour with a broken collarbone. This put Chris Froome back in the overall lead, though given Martin’s popularity, it’s unlikely he’ll be feeling jubilant about that.
As I predicted at the end of yesterday’s post, Teklehaimanot was off like a rocket to make the early break. He and four other riders broke free the moment the flag was dropped to start racing proper, and Teklehaimanot successfully added to his bank of King of the Mountain points by taking the single point atop the stage’s only categorized climb. Returning the favour to his breakaway companions, he didn’t contest the only intermediate sprint of the day; Luis Angel Mates took max points, and, when the peloton reached the sprint, Degenkolb won the sprinters’ tussle.
Reflecting on the sprints so far, it’s been an unusual race. Kristoff, who was so dominant in the Spring classics, has shown none of his earlier pizzazz. Degenkolb has always been amongst the best this tour, but has either lacked the tactics to find a good position, or the pace to make the line first. Greipel, who had a relatively modest 2014 season, has been the opposite. Always in the right place, or else always able to find the right wheel to drag him out of trouble, Greipel has shown the strong reactive, independent skills needed to reinforce the all-out power of the sprinter. Sagan has lived up to his slightly regrettable ‘Mr. Consistent’ reputation; since 2013, he’s always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. At this rate, though, he looks like a pretty good bet for the green jersey once more. However, the bookies are beginning to second-guess when it comes to Cavendish… he hasn’t shown form so far this tour, and, despite a tremendous start to 2015 (more stage wins than any other rider in the first quarter) some are suggesting the Manx missile is running out of fuel. He was no doubt feeling the need to prove himself at the start of stage 7.
Little happened for a long stretch, as the gap held steady at around the 2 minute mark for a good while. No doubt this was a welcome break for the General Classification riders, as there were a number of riders still looking nervy after yesterday’s late pile-up. The gap only dipped under a minute after 130km of riding, and the peloton were casual in reeling them in; they were eventually caught at the 11km to go mark. After a brief scare for Geraint Thomas, who punctured at 19k but swiftly got back in play, the sprint trains lined up at the front of the peloton for a quick finish.
Giant-Alpecin drove such a fast pace that the peloton was quickly strung out, and the sprint organization was lost. With a last corner at about 300m to go, Greipel was on the front, flanked by Kristoff, Sagan, and with Cavendish on his wheel. It looked like a good job done by Greipel, but in those crucial last 300m Cavendish found his way out of the tight spot he was in and, back to his old form, he shot by Greipel and hit the line first, throwing his arm into the air triumphantly, defiantly. Greipel took second, followed in, once more, by Peter Sagan.
Special thanks today to my sister Kate Townsend for the wonderful graphic displaying the time gaps after stage seven. More of those to come as the tour progresses.