Riding 231km in a day is a superhuman effort, but to ride that distance after six hard days of racing and more than 1,000km of riding in your legs before sprinting hard at the end of the day is something else. Today, on the Tour de France’s longest day, the sprinters did exactly that. After controlling the pace for the final 30km, the BORA-hansgrohe riders were working hard to bring the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, into position to contest the sprint, but some twists, turns and an uphill kick meant the Slovak rider was just unable to take his third win of the Tour, finishing the day in 3rd and retaining his Maillot Vert once again, as the race neared the end of its first week of racing. In the GC standings, Rafał Majka finished safely in the bunch to keep hold of his 9th position in the GC.
The longest stage of this year’s edition of the Tour de France, at 231km, was really going to put the hurt into the riders. After a week of hard riding on increasingly difficult roads, the efforts had really begun to show, with crashes and retirements reducing the field, as well as riders finding out who was on form and who wasn’t. This long and undulating route, which headed east from Fougères to Chartres, included only one fourth category climb, followed nearly 50km later by the intermediate sprint and then the day’s bonifications. A flat finale suggested the sprinters would be going for the win, but would anyone have the legs after such a long day both to up the pace in the finale and still kick hard to take the stage win?
The Team Tactics
On such a long stage, it would be hard to predict the day’s outcome, and as a result, much of the team’s tactics would be to keep a close eye on how the day unfolded and respond accordingly. The flat finale meant a sprint finish was highly likely, and so in addition to delivering the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, to the intermediate sprint, in the final 30km it would be up to the BORA-hansgrohe riders to force the pace and make sure the Slovak rider reached the finish safely and with the legs to contest the win. Having moved up to 9th in the GC and with the overall race about to hot up, Rafał Majka would need the team’s support to protect him in the chaos of the sprint.
It took some time for the break to form today, and with good reason, since whoever went on the attack would more than likely be staying out on the front much of the day – if not the whole distance. Two solo attacks quickly gave up, clearly not relishing the idea of a day on their own, only for the first of the two to go off alone again, this time with a little more than 190km remaining. In spite of being on his own, this brave rider built up an advantage of nine minutes, but the peloton wasn’t overly concerned with so much of the day remaining.
For the second day, winds saw the peloton break into echelons, but this didn’t stop the bunch making the catch with 90km remaining. Another attack came to nothing, however, as the sprint teams had decided to stake their claim on the stage and once again, with 40km remaining, it was back together for what would be the last time – the sprint teams making certain of that.
On the front, BORA-hansgrohe were keeping order, with Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt and Pawel Poljanski keeping the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, safe. Pulling hard on the front, the familiar teal, black and white jerseys swamped the head of the peloton as the final kilometres raced by, with the red and white strips of Austrian National Champion, Lukas Pöstlberger leading Peter’s sprint train.
Some final twists and turns saw the bunch thrown left and right as the fast men began to kick, but while Peter pushed hard, he was just unable to get in the front, crossing the line in third spot after almost six hours in the saddle.
From the Finish Line
“As expected, we had a fast finishing sprint today. The guys had done an excellent job all day and they were perfect in the final kilometres to put me in position for the finale. I took third and I’m pleased with my performance and my form. I said it before, it’s a long Tour de France and we will fight for our chances every day.” –Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion
“I think that yesterday’s effort took its toll on Peter and he had to pay the price a bit in the final kilometre. Groenewegen looked fresher and deserved the win. Once again, our team did a great job. They put Peter in a perfect spot, while at the same time they impeccably protected Rafa in the final 10km. We took again important points for the green jersey, so I think we can be quite happy with stage 7. Tomorrow will be another opportunity for the sprinters and afterwards, the race will change.” – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director