Stage 7 Montpellier to Albi 205.5km
Amazing location for today’s stage, we spent a week in the area many years ago just riding day in, day out. It was a lot better than watching the Tour on dial up in Cambodia. Onwards and upwards, an interesting stage today, if the pace over the two main climbs of the day was sedate it was a shoe-in for a group kick. If the cat was thrown amongst the pigeons it had the parcours for a cracking one day classic result.
Early on Sep VanMarcke went off the front, maybe still smarting from his crash yesterday, but once joined by riders of the calibre of Voigt and Gasparotto the group shut it down. However two of the riders in the initial break, Voigt and Kadri, got away again and they soon established a sizable gap which allowed the peloton to take the foot off the gas.
However at the 11km mark there was a fair old stack in the bunch and apart from The God Particle, (Higgs Boasson Hagen) going down, Vande Velde also hit the tarmac AGAIN. Apparently a crash he had earlier in the race had separated a plate from his clavicle and this latest crash was the final straw. He was out of the Tour for the 3rd time due to injuries sustained.
Cannondale were spending a fair amount of time on the front, indicating that Sagan was over finishing 2nd, and on the run up to the Croix de Mounis they kicked the pace up a notch. This began to shake the peloton tree and soon the prize fruit was dislodged in Cavendish. Add Greipel, Goss and Kittel to this list and it was mission accomplished for Cannondale.
The pursuers were now over 2 minutes down and Quick Step called all riders back to try and get Cavendish back onto the bus. The race was alive and with Quick Step, Lotto and Argos all with the same end goal it was up to Cannondale et al to hold them off.
The intermediate sprint came and went with Sagan winning easily and there was a glimmer of hope for the chasers that Cannondale would now sit up. Cannondale complied for a while and GreenEDGE took up their duties duly, however the chasing group was, plainly, a mess and it wasn’t looking good for them getting back on board.
With the focus up front rather than behind, Bakelants indirectly drove the final nail in the sprinters coffin when he attacked after the intermediate sprint. This was a red flag for GreenEDGE with Bakelants only 33 seconds behind Impey and once Oroz and Gautier were away to create a break of 3 the gap was kept between 30 seconds and a minute. Soon the sprint group was out over 8 minutes. Oh Lordy how many people tipped for a group kick…there will be blood.
Coming into 5km to go the break was on the cusp of being caught with Cannondale still doing the lion’s share of the work. Cannondale were banking all their biccies on the day’s stage it seemed, and anything less than a victory to Sagan would be a disappointment.
With 3km to go the break was engulfed and the best wheel in the house was surely Mr Sagan’s. Argos Shimano and Lampre tried to disrupt the destiny but with 500m to go Cannondale were back on the front. Degenkolb hijacked the kick by coming up the inside and Sagan chopped Bennati to get on his wheel. From there he gave it a pause before opening up the pain train on Degenkolb, winning in a canter. An amazing performance from both Sagan and Cannondale, who truly dictated proceedings at their whim.
Back out on the road though the Venga Bus was in full effect, coming in over 10 minutes down. Kittel was seen dancing on the podium and Cav was partying like there was no tomorrow, which could be correct, given we are now in the mountains. WHO WHO WHO picked riders in the laughing gear???