Dutch speed king Dylan Groenewegen edged an ultra-tight bunch sprint on stage seven of the Tour de France yesterday as Italy’s Giulio Ciccone retained the overall race lead.
Groenewegen beat Australia’s Caleb Ewan in a photo-finish to make up for the pain of falling on stage one on the Brussels home straight.
Pure sprinter Groenewegen was left sat on his backside in Brussels when he had been red-hot favourite to win.
He was also left to wonder what might have been as his teammate Mike Teunissen won the opening stage and pulled on the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
“The first day wasn’t what I expected but now I’m back on top,” said the Jumbo-Visma man on the finish line on the banks of the Soane river on a baking afternoon.
Groenewegen was asked if he was the best pure sprinter in the world, but he refused to be drawn.
The 26-year-old is being compared to the great British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who won 30 stages of the Tour de France in his prime.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan retained the sprinters’ points green jersey after finishing third.
“I stayed on Groenewegen’s wheel, but then I switched to Elia Viviani’s, wrong move, they shot past us,” said Sagan.
“These two guys (Groenewegen and Ewan) are much faster than me.”
Thomas just happy to be ahead
Defending champion Geraint Thomas, who beat all his key rivals the day before, and his Ineos co-captain Egan Bernal finished safely in the pack.
“It was reassuring to see Geraint Thomas at this level,” said Ineos sports director Nicolas Portal, describing the Welshman’s performance as “morale boosting”.
“Yesterday was a kind of weird mountain stage and I’m just glad to be in front of everyone (the title contenders),” Thomas said at the start of yesterday’s stage in the fortified town of Belfort.
On the longest stage of the Tour at 230km, the riders involved in the summit showdown the day before were mainly in relaxed mood.
“I’m looking forwards to a quiet couple of stages now, we’re all really calm after a good day yesterday,” said 22-year-old Bernal.
One man who was far from relaxed yesterday was the previous day’s main loser on the challenging seven-mountain slog.
Romain Bardet said yesterday he felt ashamed of his performance on the staggeringly steep La Planche des Belles Filles climb Thursday where he lost over a minute in only 800 metres.
Television viewers were given a series of spectacular panoramas as the peloton, led by a beaming overall leader Ciccone, wound slowly out of the rolling hills of the Alsace, leaving behind its storks and quaint villages of half-wooden houses.
But with an escape group zooming five minutes ahead after 80km, sprinter Viviani’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step team cranked up the tempo on the flat plains of Burgundy, renowned for its wines and cuisine.
Stephane Rossetto of Cofidis and Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Gobert led from the start to 5km from home, before the peloton caught them to set up a sprint finish.
Today’s stage features seven categorised climbs where home fans will be baying for Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe to try and regain the overall lead.
Alaphilippe was cheered for two days after taking the lead at Epernay, but agonisingly lost it by six seconds to Ciccone at La Planche des Belles Filles on Thursday.
“Tomorrow will be a very hard stage, I’ll need to have a very good day to keep the yellow jersey,” the 24-year-old Ciccone said.
Stage 7 results (top 10)
1. Dylan Groenewegen (JUM) 6:02:44
2. Caleb Ewan (LOT) same time
3. Peter Sagan (BOR)
4. Sonny Colbrelli (BAH)
5. Jasper Philipsen (UAE)
6. Elia Viviani (DEC)
7. Giacomo Nizzolo (DDT)
8. Jasper Stuyven (TRE)
9. Michael Matthews (SUN)
10. Alexander Kristoff (UAE)
Overall standings (top 10)
1. Giulio Ciccone (TRE) 29:17:39
2. Julian Alaphilippe (DEC) +00:06
3. Dylan Teuns (BAH) +00:32
4. George Bennett (JUM) +00:47
5. Geraint Thomas (INE) +00:49
6. Egan Bernal (INE) +00:53
7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +00:58
8. Steven Kruijswijk (JUM) +01:04
9. Michael Woods (EF1) +01:13
10. Rigoberto Uran (EF1) +01:15