Dylan Groenewegen has won his first stage of the 2018 Tour de France.  The surprise victor on the Champs-Elysees in last year’s Tour de France, took the stage win at the end of 231km ahead of Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan; silencing any critics in the process.

It was the queen stage of the Tour de France, a bruising 231km of racing with the only saving grace being the fact that the stage was a largely flat and unthreatening one in terms of gradient.  Sprinters would be biting at the bit to seize an opportunity, and there were many sprinters who had underperformed by their lofty standards so far; most notably the likes of Mark Cavendish, Dylan Groenewegen, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel all would be wanting to make things right.

The stage began with Wanty-Groupe Gobert heading up the road on the attack, although what was interesting to note was the unwillingness of anyone to join them.  After a brief move by Yoann Offredo, teammate Thomas Degand went up the road, with no great intensity in his move because of the lack of cooperation behind him.  He quickly established a lead of a minute, but it seemed that for a while he was in limbo as to whether to even persist with the move.  Reluctance seemed to get the better of him as with just 16km covered he was back in the bunch.

 

A weird day for a breakaway

 

Back in the peloton though a fuse had been lit and a new move went up the road featuring a number of teams and big name teams as well.  Simon Gerrans of BMC Racing was there, so too Yves Lampaert of Quick-Step Floors, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale and teammate Oliver Naesen and Edward Theuns of Team Sunweb.  It was a dangerous move and one that could cause plenty of trouble if allowed to succeed.  For that reason LottoNL-Jumbo surged to the front and decided to do everything in their power to bring the move back.  After a rather furious chase from the team of Dylan Groenewegen the break was annulled with 205.7km to go.

A brief truce occurred in the peloton as for a while earlier service resumed with no one really wanting to make a big day out of it, but then finally Yoann Offredo decided again to go on the attack.  Once again he found himself on his own, but this time the Frenchman decided to commit.  The peloton were happy with the arrangement and it didn’t take long for the soloist to build a lead that climbed to a grand total of 9.14 minutes.

Back in the peloton Quick-Step Floors had a presence on the front of the peloton, but so too did Groupama-FDJ, Movistar and even the likes of EF Education First-Drapac courtesy of New Zealand’s Tom Scully were towards the front.  The king of the mountains point available arrived with 111km remaining.  The Côte du Buisson de Perseigne was a short 1.5km in length at an average gradient of 3.9%.  Offredo arrived there with his lead more than halved, but he nonetheless took the solitary point and the 200 Euros on offer for being first to the top of a category 4 climb; his advantage now down to 4.04mins.

Behind him Groupama-FDJ were paying a lot of attention to the front of the race, hoping to line up French sprint hope Arnaud Demare for victory later on.  For Offredo up ahead though the question now turned to whether he’d have the legs to reach the intermediate sprint with 63km to go and pick up the 1500 euros for first place.  With 100km to go Offredo’s lead was at just under 3.45mins and it was looking promising for him, but then the crosswinds hit the peloton and AG2R La Mondiale lit the torch in the peloton in an effort to split the race; and they succeeded.  

Mark Cavendish will be disappointed that so far tenth place is his best result in this year’s Tour de France, photo Sirotti

Crosswinds bite once more

 

A number of riders were caught out in the second group on the road as AG2R La Mondiale, together with Movistar, piled on the pace.  Tom Scully, who had been on the front was now in the wrong group with a couple of teammates, so too was Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-Scott, Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and yesterday’s stage winner Daniel Martin of UAE Team Emirates.  Martin’s absence from the front of the pack was a big problem and his teammates took it upon themselves to drop back and team time trial Martin back into the peloton, with the two groups reuniting with 93km left to race.

However, for Yoann Offredo the news was not good, as all but a handful of seconds remained in his lead.  The Frenchman would finally find himself back in the peloton with 90km to go, and with Offredo caught once again the question of who would rise up was now again on many riders’ minds.  BMC Racing resumed their service at the front of the pack, with Patrick Bevin arriving at the front of the pack, but then off the front of the peloton an attack went clear from Laurent Pichon.  

Part of the all-French Fortuneo-Samsic outfit, Pichon built a lead that went up over the 2 minute mark, but with the kilometres dwindling it was never likely that he’d get much more than that.  Possibly out of a desire to ensure that they weren’t caught out in crosswinds again today, the front of the peloton was really rather colourful, with a handful of teams all fighting for the front of the pack, and they were rather intense with their effort, which resulted in Pichon’s lead being cut to 1.14mins by the time he reached the intermediate sprint.  Behind him the sprint for second place saw BORA-Hansgrohe and Quick-Step Floors go head-to-head.  Fernando Gaviria took second place, with Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff following close behind.

Pichon’s lead yoyo-ed between 30 seconds up to 1.53mins but inevitably the peloton brought him back too with 37.7km to go.  Sadly for Yoann Offredo, even though he’d been out in front for much longer, it would be Pichon who took the most combative prize of the stage.  Lotto Soudal led the peloton at this point, but would they remain there to the end?  Would a new breakaway go up the road?  What would the next dynamic be in what had been a rather unusual stage by all accounts?

 

Groenewegen denies Gaviria a hat trick

 

The bonus time sprint was the next element to contend for and while Greg van Avermaet was eager to put his hand up for the 3 seconds for first place, it was interesting that none of his closest rivals in the general classification opted to contest the sprint with him; leaving the maillot jaune to stretch his lead out a little bit further.

It appeared that the peloton were resigned to simply contesting the sprint and winding up for that, rather than anyone chancing their arm in a final breakaway effort.  The tempo wasn’t very strong from the peloton, with BORA-Hansgrohe, Astana, Movistar, BMC Racing, Dimension Data and Lotto Soudal all on the front; but not really opening up.  It was remarkable how pedestrian the closing kilometres were being compared to previous stages so far!

The peloton get ready for the longest stage of the 2018 Tour de France at 231km, photo Sirotti

Finally though, at 10km to go the sprint teams began to windy up for the finish although the peloton was still very, very compact and no one team was asserting control.  Groupama-FDJ and Dimension Data finally changed that though, with Lotto Soudal also pushing the pace at the front.  With 3km to go LottoNL-Jumbo surged to the front, challenging for the front with Cavendish and his train.  But the news was not good for Marcel Kittel who was finding himself going backwards.  At 2km to go Cofidis also showed their hand at the front for Christophe Laporte.

As 1km to go close in Groupama-FDJ moved forward while behind them Peter Sagan and Fernando Gaviria kept their eyes on each other.  It was Groupama-FDJ who led the way to the final kick for the line, but Demare and Gaviria were best placed for the finish with Sagan third wheel, Kristoff and Groenewegen behind them.  When Gaviria hit for home it looked like it might be a third stage win for the Colombian, but Dylan Groenewegen came out of Kristoff’s wheel he piled on the pace and managed to distance the two-time stage winner quite comfortably to secure his first win of the 2018 Tour.

Fernando Gaviria secured second place ahead of Peter Sagan, Arnaud Demare and Christophe Laporte.  Mark Cavendish faced more frustration, as a gear slip in the sprint meant that he finally took tenth place; which is still his best finish so far in this year’s Tour.

Jack Bauer and Patrick Bevin both finished in the peloton with the same time as Groenewegen, with Dion Smith and Tom Scully just behind on a day that ended up being great in distance but not in drama for them and for the GC contenders.

 

Tour de France 2018 stage 7 results

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