Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won the seventh stage of the Tour de France on Friday.
Sagan executed a massive acceleration in the final 150 meters after being led out by teammates to claim the victory in a bunch sprint at the end of the 205.5-kilometer stage from Montpellier to Albi.
Placing second was John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), while Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff) was a close third.
Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) kept his overall race lead and will be in the yellow jersey tomorrow. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) is 3 ticks back in second, while Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) is third at 5 seconds behind.
Cannondale, which was at the front of the peloton for much of the day, rode hard in the final 15km to keep Sagan out front and in contention to win. The squad was joined by Argos-Shimano and Omega Pharma-Quick Step in the final 5km.
As the group passed under the 1km banner, Sagan seemed to be trapped in the middle of the pack. Degenkolb charged ahead with about 400 meters left and seemed poised to win. However, Sagan then pulled around a teammate and raced up the left side of the road. Turning the pedals over at a high cadence, he zoomed past Degenkolb and crossed the line to win.
“That might be the last time we get anything major for the next few days, but I’ve got such a big lead in the points classification, I can afford to let others get the points and rest before I try for more stage wins later,” Sagan said.
With Cannondale squad working hard to keep Sagan in the green jersey, the team moved to the front of the peloton midway through the race in an effort to drop the other sprinters it the field ahead of the intermediate sprint.
The tactic worked.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and the other speedsters fell behind and despite a furious chase, were unable to catch the large peloton before the sprint. This means that Sagan won the sprint and collected 20 points, while his top rivals for green were shut out.
“The team’s done a great job today. I’m very happy with the performance of the team,” Sagan said. “I had to come out and get the victory because the team put its backs against the wall for 110km.”
Later in the stage, with most of the sprinters still in a second group behind yellow jersey group, they shut it down and resigned themselves to the fact that trying to catch the main field was not worth the effort.
The riders in that group, which included Greipel and Cavendish, finished nearly 15 minutes behind.
“It was a little bit different than we expected,” Orica sports director Matt White said. “Cannondale did a great job and got rid of all the sprinters other than Degenkolb, Rojas, and Boasson Hagen. … There was a lot of pressure from Cannondale and they deserved to win it.”
Multiple riders attacked the main field during the stage, but after spending time in a breakaway they were each reeled back in by the peloton.
Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) jumped ahead early in the race, but they were brought back 110km into the stage.
Later, Jans Bakelants (RadioShack) — who led the race earlier this week — attacked at the 138km mark. He was joined shortly after by Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel-Easkadi). That trio stayed ahead of the rest of the field until 3km of racing remained, when the Cannondale-led main group ramped up the pace ahead of the sprint finish.
After crashing 11km into the stage, American Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) was forced to abandon the race. Two days ago he crashed hard and suffered a blood clot in his neck, along with a back injury. Further, a screw holding one of his collarbones in place from a previous injury came loose.
Despite the pain, Vande Velde decided to keep racing. But Friday’s crash resulted in more bumps and bruises, and the team doctor said he decided to call it quits.
Vande Velde has said this would be the final Tour de France of his career.
Also withdrawing from the Tour was Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida).
The race enters the Pyrénées this weekend, as Saturday’s 195km stage features the hors categorie Col de Pailhères climb before ending atop the Cat. 1 ascent to Aix 3 Domaines.