CHALON SUR SAONE, France: Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen put his nightmare of a Tour de France start behind him when he won the seventh stage in a bunch sprint after a pancake-flat 230 km ride from Belfort on Friday.
The Jumbo-Visma rider, who crashed heavily in the opening stage in Brussels, beat Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Slovak Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) into second and third, respectively.
It was Groenewegen’s fourth stage win on the Tour, two years after his first came in the prestigious final ride on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
“The start of the race what not what I’d expected but in the past days I tried to recover to be ready for today,” Groenewegen, whose team and room mate Mike Teunissen won the first stage in Brussels to don the yellow jersey, told a news conference.
“Today we did a very good job as a team. I was a bit boxed in with 500 metres to go and I asked Mike (Teunissen) to make space for me and he put his life on the line to do it.
“It was a chaotic sprint and I started my effort with 250 metres left, I just went full gas.”
Italian Giulio Ciccone, who extended his contract with Trek-Segafredo by two years until 2021, retained the overall lead.
Saturday’s eighth stage is a 200km ride from Macon to St Etienne, where France’s Julian Alaphilippe, second overall six seconds off the pace, is expected to try and regain the yellow jersey on a hilly course in central France.
“I know that the terrain will suit him well and that six seconds is nothing,” said Ciccone, nicknamed Il Gekko for his fast climbing abilities.
“Riding in the yellow jersey through France is such a special feeling and I could really enjoy it because the first 200 kilometres were taken at a slow pace.”
On the longest stage of the race, Frenchmen Yoann Offredo and Stephane Rossetto formed the day’s breakaway with virtually no chance of going all the way against a peloton working towards a bunch sprint finish.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche lost focus and fell off his bike without any injuries while American Tejay van Garderen, once a Tour overall contender, suffered in a crash early on.
“After crashing on stage seven of the Tour de France, Tejay van Garderen has been forced to withdraw from the race due to a fractured hand,” his EF-Education First team said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Andrew Cawthorne and Christian Radnedge)