Tour de France stage 7 was the longest of the race with the peloton taking on a 231km course from Fougères to Chartres that eventually came down to a bunch sprint and saw Greg Van Avermaet extend his overall race lead at the end of the first week.
Unlike previous stages, the breakaway took a long time to form with a couple of early moves, including one involving Simon Gerrans, trying to go clear before eventually, Yoann Offredo (Wanty – Groupe Gobert) began a solo mission after 35km of racing.
The lone leader steadily began to build up an advantage that was sitting at over nine minutes after 65km of racing but at the same time, the sprinters’ teams began to organize themselves behind to regain control of the stage.
Heading over the top of the day’s only categorized climb, the Côte du Buisson de Perseigne, and into the second half of the stage, the peloton had pulled Offredo back to a manageable four minutes.
Crosswinds once again caused nerves in the bunch with the peloton splitting just after the 100km to go mark. BMC Racing Team was well-positioned in the front group when the race heated up but in the end, the split was short lived and the peloton came back together around 5km later.
What the subsequent increase in pace did do however was seriously damage the advantage of Offredo and with the gap falling quickly, he was caught and the race hit the reset button with 90km still to race.
BMC Racing Team continued to sit up at the front of the main bunch as a second solo attack, this time from Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Samsic), went up the road 10km later.
Pichon’s advantage was kept in check and never allowed to reach far beyond two minutes before he was finally reeled in ahead of a bonus sprint with 31km to go that saw Van Avermaet led out by his teammates to add three seconds to his overall race lead.
The peloton was spread out across the width of the road heading into the final 15km of the stage however with a bunch sprint on the horizon, the pace started to intensify and the battle for position began inside the final 10km.
A technical section with a tight corner between 2km to go and the flamme rouge had the potential to cause upset but the whole bunch was able to get through safely and headed onto the final uphill drag to the line at full speed.
Ultimately, it was Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto-NLJumbo) who was the fastest to the line and he took the day’s honors while behind, Van Avermaet finished safely alongside the rest of his teammates to secure a fifth day in the yellow jersey, six seconds ahead of the next-placed rider.
After being protected all day, Porte remains 11th overall while van Garderen continues to sit third heading into stage 8 tomorrow.
Quotes From the Finish Line:
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was a pretty calm day but you still had to be focused as guys tried twice to force echelons and that made it kind of nervous but overall, it was a good day. It was a long day and it was a little bit more relaxed but with a really fast final. I am happy I could take those three extra seconds in the bonus sprint. It was an open sprint with nobody in front so it was good to give it a try and take some seconds to make sure I am safe for the next stage. Now, I can probably keep the jersey to Roubaix and overall it’s been a nice week so far.”
“Tomorrow is going to be flat but shorter than today and I think it is going to have the same outcome. I feel like I can focus on Sunday and try to be up there and we will see what happens.”
“It’s been a good start to the race so far. Today was the longest stage at 231km and not a lot happened but it was pretty frantic there in the final. I think as a whole, it’s nice to get to where we are, in the position that we have with Greg going into a fifth day in the yellow jersey tomorrow.”
Sports Director, Fabio Baldato:
“The Tour has been going well for us so far. We’re at the end of the first week and having the yellow jersey keeps our motivation. Up until now, we haven’t spent too much energy and even better, we haven’t had to spend too much energy to keep Richie up at the front. The stage into Roubaix on Sunday is the last technical point in the first part of the race.”