Slovakian rider Peter Sagan won the hilly seventh stage of the Tour de France in a sprint finish yesterday, and Daryl Impey kept the overall race lead.
Sagan held off John Degenkolb of Germany to clinch his first stage victory in this year’s Tour and extend his lead in the contest for the sprinters’ green jersey. Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati was third.
“I have to say my team did all the work today, they did an incredible job,” Sagan, 23, said through a translator. “They showed that they are perfectly capable. I’d like to thank them.”
Impey began the day as the first South African rider to wear the yellow jersey, but will likely relinquish it after today’s first of two difficult days in the high mountains of the Pyrenees. “Very hot, hard day,” said Impey, who leads Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen by three seconds overall and his Orica Greenedge team-mate Simon Gerrans by five seconds. “The whole country really knows about me now, so a lot has changed.”
Keen to get Sagan in a good position to attack, the Cannondale team upped the pace near the end. Three of them almost fell near the end as they mistimed a corner and their bikes wobbled, but their expert handling and reflexes rescued them.
Sagan’s stage win moves him 94 points clear of German rider Andre Greipel and he is more than 100 points ahead of his arch-rival Mark Cavendish – the 2011 green jersey winner – who was left behind and could not even challenge for the stage win.
The average speed picked up considerably in the fourth hour, jumping up to nearly 30mph in temperatures again well above 30C for the 205.5km hilly leg from Montpellier to Albi. With 40km remaining, the front three of Belgian rider Jan Bakelants, Frenchman Cyril Gautier and Spaniard Juan Jose Oroz led the yellow jersey group surrounding Impey by 45 seconds and then by 20 with 10km left.
American rider Christian Vande Velde pulled out after being caught in an early crash. Boasson Hagen, Colombian rider Nairo Quintana and Michael Schar of Switzerland also fell about 111km into the stage. They rejoined the race, but Vande Velde, 37, who hurt his back in a crash earlier in the race, was unable to continue.
Early in the stage, German veteran Jens Voigt, 41, and Frenchman Blel Kadri were part of six riders who broke away, but four were caught, to leave Voigt and Kadri alone. But any dreams Voigt had of becoming the oldest stage winner since Pino Cerami in 1963 melted in the sun.
Riders face a tough weekend in the Pyrenees, where race favourites like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are likely to attack on today’s climb up the famed Col de Pailheres.