Slovakian Peter Sagan dominated a bunch sprint to win the seventh stage of the Tour de France on Friday as South African Daryl Impey defended the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Sagan, last year’s winner of the race’s green jersey points competition, surged in the final 150 metres of the 205.5km stage from Montpellier to Albi to claim his first win of the 100th edition.
Germany’s John Degenkolb (Argos) and Italian Daniele Bennati (Saxo) finished a bike length behind in second and third respectively.
It ends a frustrating first week for Sagan, who has narrowly missed out on sprint wins on four occasions.
“The team did an incredible job and I want to thank them all,” said Sagan. “I hope today’s win gives an answer to all the fans who had criticised me and the team on the internet. Now the pressure is off.”
A day before the first of two consecutive stages in the Pyrenees, a combination of the climbs and the pace in the peloton proved too much for sprinters Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel.
Both were dropped in succession on the second of the day’s four small climbs, and when the news filtered through to Sagan he put his troops on the front of the main bunch and ordered them to hit full gas.
It left Cavendish and Greipel, who won stages five and six respectively, in an 84-strong group which flirted with missing the time cut-off limit.
The late arrivals crossed the finish nearly 15 minutes in arrears, but Cavendish was unperturbed. “Over half the peloton was dropped on that climb,” said the Manxman. “It was difficult.”
Sagan now has a lead of over 100 pts in the points competition, but said the green jersey was far from secure.