Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step has won Stage 7 of the Tour de France by the narrowest of margins from Cannondale's Peter Sagan by the narrowest of margins as a small group contested the sprint in Nancy in a crash-strewn finale.
Sagan and Greg van Avermaet of BMC had attacked off the final climb, but were caught coming under the flamme rouge as they entered the final kilometre. The Cannondale rider, never out of the top five in this year's race do far, recovered to contest the sprint but was beaten by less than a tyre's width.
Tony Gallopin of Lotto-Belisol finished third, while race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Astana finished within the front group and retains the yellow jersey.
Today’s 234.5 kilometre stage from Epernay, home to the world’s leading Champagne houses, saw an early break comprising six riders, the final two of whom – Swiss champion Martin Elmiger of BMC, and Bartosz Huzarski of NetApp-Endura, were caught with 19 kilometres remaining, on the first of two late Category 4 climbs.
On that climb, the Côte de Maron, Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler attacked but it didn’t stick, and on the descent a crash saw riders including BMC’s Tejay van Garderen come down.
The American took team mate Peter Velits’ bike in an attempt to rejoin the front group, assisted by other BMC riders, but would cede a little over a minute to Nibali by the end of the stage.
Cannondale had worked tirelessly for Sagan throughout the stage, in which the Slovak started favourite to take the win, and he made his move on the final climb, the Côte de Boufflers.
The points classification leader is still waiting for his first win in this year’s race, however, as Trentin, who had benefited from a terrific leadout from Michal Kwiatkowski, pipped him to the line.
Stage winner, Matteo Trentin
It's been tight! I've won by just a few centimeters. It was very nervous with this complicated finale and those crashes but I didn't realize really because everything was happening behind me. Surprisingly, I wasn't feeling good this morning. I didn't have good legs and after 150 kilometres, I didn't know how I'd manage to go over those two climbs at the end.
But on the way, I felt better and better. After the first climb, I realised something was possible. The course was really inspiring for me. Kwiatkowski led me out at perfection. I had to finish it off. But at the end, I really thought that Sagan had passed me.
It's wonderful for the team, especially after six days of bad luck. We've had punctures, crashes, wrong timing for attacking, chain drop, etc. Since Cavendish crashed, we try all we can to go for a stage victory, with Renshaw, Kwiatkowski and I'm the one who makes it. But it's not my victory, it's the team's victory.
Peter Sagan, second today, who extended his lead in the point competition
When I win, people complain that I win easily and now people think it's strange that I don't win, but the reality is that it's not easy to win. I thank my team-mates for the huge work they've done by pulling all day. I've had to try and attack in the last climb but I looked back and I saw the group coming across.
I've tried my best at the end. I was close to winning but I didn't win. I've never thought I was the winner. I knew it was tight so I was waiting for the result. I'm still up there. This is another good day for the green jersey but something extra is missing and that's a stage win.
However, there's still a long way away in the Tour de France and my day will come. At least I hope so.
Race leader, Vincenzo Nibali
It was another long day in the saddle today. It became stressful when all the big teams came up to the front of the peloton and the finale has been the most dangerous. I remember that two years ago, even though the time trials were much longer and more important for the overall ranking, it was also nervous every day.
I feel sorry for Peter Sagan who is my former team-mate and still a good friend but I'm happy for Matteo Trentin to be a winner. It's an important victory for Italian cycling. The coming weekend is going to be very difficult with a lot of climbs on the course.
Alberto Contador gave me a signal of what he's keen to do when he asked Nicolas Roche to pull today. They didn't take me by surprise. It's normal that they try to make it up for the time lost and that I always have to keep an eye on them. I was up there.
I'm well. My condition is good. To wear the yellow jersey is a motivating factor. It creates a positive stress. It's not that tiring for me but it is for my team-mates. They are great though. We look at working the best way we can."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.