Team Sky blew the Tour de France peloton apart on the first of three summit finishes of the 99th edition of the race today, Chris Froome winning the stage and taking the polka dot jersey, with Bradley Wiggins finishing third, two seconds behind, to move into the maillot jaune. Only defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing separated the British pair. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Rogers and Richie Porte had set a blistering pace on the early part of the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles that not only prevented attacks from pure climbers, but saw big name riders blasted out of the back of the lead group, only Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali and Cofidis rider Rein Taaramae managing to stay close to Froome, Evans and Wiggins. Following yesterday’s crash 25 kilometres from the finish in Metz, a dozen riders were missing from the start in Tomblaine this morning.
Today’s stage, featuring a final climb never before used in the Tour, had been widely expected to see some of the stronger climbers attack to try and gain seconds on Wiggins and Evans ahead of Monday’s individual time trial, one of two such stages remaining in the race. Team Sky simply gave them no opportunity to do that as they effectively rode a team time trial up to the summit, the pace refusing to relent even when the gradient went well beyond 20 degrees.
The team had done their homework on the climb, including riding it ahead of the Tour, and the rehearsals paid dividends as one by one riders with aspirations either of the stage win today, or even a podium place or top-ten finish in Paris in a fortnight’s time, were dropped as a result of the relentless pace being set at the front.
Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broecke and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde could at least point to bad luck, with each suffering punctures shortly before that final climb, meaning they had already been distanced by the lead group as the road headed uphill.
For others, including Tour podium finishers such as Frank Schleck and Andreas Klöden of RadioShack-Nissan, Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Cannondale, Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez and Katusha’s Denis Menchov – a former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta winner seen as a dark horse to complete his set of Grand Tour overall victories this year – there were no such excuses; they simply weren’t able to cope with the tempo the Team Sky riders were setting.
Indeed, it was a team mate of Schleck and Klöden’s not known for his strength on ascents such as these who put in one of the most determined performances on the last climb – Fabian Cancellara, who has spent the past week in the maillot jaune and was resigned to losing it today, but who put up as much of a fight as he could and somewhat unexpectedly still lies 11th overall this evening.
Ahead of the final ascent, Garmin-Sharp, the team that came off worst in that big chute yesterday, losing the services of Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal as well as Tom Danielson and Robbie Hunter, had been forcing the pace at the front of the main group as they switched to their Plan B for the Tour, targeting breakaways and stage wins. Today, the US-registered team was looking to set up Dan Martin, but the former Irish champion was yet another of those distanced by the Sky express.
Hesjedal and Danielson were among a dozen riders missing from the start of today’s stage following yesterday’s chute, which the Giro winner described as “one of the worst crashes I’ve ever seen.”
Others forced out of the race as a result of that crash included Wouter Poels of Vacansoleil-DCM, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Mikel Astarloza and Davide Viganò of Lampre-ISD, each of whom, like Danielson, abandoned yesterday.
Also failing to make the start this morning were three-time world champion Oscar Freire of Katusha, Maarten Wynants of Rabobank, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Amets Txurruka, Imanol Erviti of Movistar, AG2R-La Mondiale’s Hubert Dupont, and Movistar’s Ivan Gutierrez.
Thankfully, on today’s stage, the drama was confined to the racing, and as the main group hit the bottom of the 5.9 kilometre climb, seven riders who had spent the day out ahead of the peloton, including Michael Albasini of Orica-GreenEdge and Rabobank’s Luis-Leon Sanchez, were about to be caught as Sky moved to the front to set up Wiggins to take the maillot jaune and Froome to take the stage.
Wiggins becomes only the second British rider after David Millar to have worn the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours, and an emphatic performance by Sky on a day when every member of the team had a role to play – world champion Mark Cavendish, for example, dropping back to the car to fetch water – is bound to further fuel hopes that he can become the first rider from these shores to take it all the way to Paris.
There’s still a fortnight to go, however, and the only certainty in what has so far proved to be an unpredictable race is that Evans will fight anyone with pretensions of taking his crown every inch of the way to the Champs-Élysées.
Stage winner Chris Froome, Team Sky:
"It wasn’t the plan to go for the stage win, my only concern was keeping Bradley up there. We’d come to see this climb previously and I knew what the finish was like. When it came to it I thought ‘I’m there, I’ve got the legs, so why not give it a kick and see what happens’. I just couldn’t believe it when Cadel couldn’t follow my wheel. I thought ‘wow! This could actually come off and it did.
"I'm speechless really at what we’ve achieved today in terms of British cycling – it’s a dream come true and I never thought I’d win a stage here, so I’m chuffed to bits but there's still a long way to race."
Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
"It’s an incredible feeling to have done what we’ve done and it hasn’t sunk in yet. It sounds corny but this is something I’ve dreamt of since I was a child – sat on the home trainer in Kilburn watching my hero Miguel Indurain do it. Those dreams have come true now and I’m sat here at the top of a mountain in yellow. It’s phenomenal.
"We’ve trained for performances like that all year and on the climb I was shouting at Froomey with 1.5km to go to save a little bit because he didn’t need to go any harder. I knew he could win the stage if he just kept a little bit back and it was a great finish for him.
"My priority was to watch Cadel because I knew I was going to take yellow. It’s fantastic – Froomey’s taken the stage and is King of the Mountains, and I’m in yellow, so it was an incredible day.
"I'm chuffed for Froomey because he had some bad fortune last week [when a puncture cost him time on stage one] but now he’s got his stage and is going to be an integral part to me winning this race now. I’ve survived a very, very manic first week and just pleased to be in the yellow."
Sean Yates, Sports Director, Team Sky:
"We came here to try and win the Tour, and there’s still a long way between here and Paris, but we’ve set the bar high today and this team has delivered, just like they have done all year.
"Up to now in the Tour it’s been sprint stages and we’ve been waiting for today. We laid down the law though today and proved we are very, very strong.
"We’re here to ride our bikes and do that to the best of our ability and if we do that the riches will come, and are coming. Everything is running as planned but there’s a long way to Paris and you can’t take anything for granted. Today’s performance tastes sweet though and I’m really happy for Froomey. We’ll just continue to do our job to the best of our ability now."
Tweet of the Day:
"One thing,i dont know what a bullshit they write in the RSNT press realese,but i had good legs today, only the last 4k i was somehow blocked" - Andreas Klöden, Radioshack-Nissan (we assume he was still somehow blocked when team mate and non-mountain goat Fabian Cancellara shot past him with 2.5km to go...)
Tour de France Stage 7 result 1 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 04h 58' 35'' 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 02'' 3 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 02'' 4 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 07'' 5 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 00' 19'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 44'' 7 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 00' 46'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 00' 46'' 9 MENCHOV Denis KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 50'' 10 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 56'' 11 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 01' 06'' 12 SCHLECK Frank RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 01' 09'' 13 PORTE Richie SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 14'' 14 ROGERS Michael SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 24'' 15 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 24'' 16 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 01' 31'' 17 MARTIN Daniel GARMIN-SHARP-BARRACUDA + 01' 39'' 18 IZAGUIRRE Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 01' 39'' 19 GALLOPIN Tony RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 01' 44'' 20 CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 01' 52'' Last man home on Stage 7 181 VERDUGO Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 20' 29'' General Classification after Stage 7 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 34h 21' 20'' 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 10'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 16'' 4 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 00' 32'' 5 MENCHOV Denis KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 54'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 59'' 7 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 01' 09'' 8 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 01' 22'' 9 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 32'' 10 ROGERS Michael SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 40'' Points Classification after Stage 7 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 217 pts 2 GOSS Matthew Harley ORICA GREENEDGE 185 pts 3 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 172 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 129 pts 5 PETACCHI Alessandro LAMPRE - ISD 109 pts Mountains Classification after Stage 7 1 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 20 pts 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM 16 pts 3 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 12 pts 4 MORKOV Michael TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 9 pts 5 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 8 pts Best Young Rider's Classification after Stage 7 1 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 34h 21' 52'' 2 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 02' 37'' 3 GALLOPIN Tony RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 41'' 4 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 03' 35'' 5 IZAGUIRRE Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 03' 38''
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.