Groenewegen comes from behind to sprint to Stage 7 glory
Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen prevailed in a slug-fest finale in Chalon-sur-Saone to win the longest stage of the 2019 Tour de France by a whisker over Australia’s Caleb Ewan.
Jumbo-Visma’s Groenewegen bounced back from his crash on the opening day of the race to open up his account for the 106th edition - and notch the fourth Tour win of his career.
Launching from behind his rivals after losing his lead-out man Mike Teunissen in the hectic finale of the 230km stage from Belfort, Groenewegen powered past rivals Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) before holding Lotto Soudal’s Ewan at bay as the road ramped up slightly towards the line.
Slovakia’s Sagan finished third to extend his lead in the green jersey points classification, while the top five was completed by Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida) and Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates).
Italian youngster Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) retained both the yellow and white jerseys, the 24-year-old Tour debutant finishing safely in the pack to hold on to his six-second lead over Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
But the day belonged to Groenewegen, who got his race back on track and gave his Jumbo-Visma team their third scalp of the Tour.
“Every time I sprint against Caleb the gap is very small and so I’m very happy with this win,” said 26-year-old Groenewegen, who also won the longest stage of last year’s Tour.
“The first day I crashed really hard and the next days were really f***ed but yesterday I felt good again and today the team took charge of me and it’s great to get the win.”
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Stage 7: Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone - how it happened
Two riders attacked from the outset of the longest stage of the 2019 Tour - although they may have wished they hadn’t bothered.
Still, by being away from the stress of the peloton, they did avoid the plight of the American Tejay Van Garderen of EF Education First, who stuck a piece of road furniture early in the stage and was left bloodied and torn.
French duo Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert) built up a maximum lead of pushing six minutes on a day always destined for the sprinters.
The pair were each featuring in a break for the third time since the start of this year’s Tour - although they were very much on a hiding to nothing under the sunshine of the Doubs valley and into Burgundy.
With just three lower-category climbs on the menu, both escapees ended up with two KOM points each with Offredo crossing the summit of the Cat.4 ascents of the Col de Ferriere and Cote de Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne either side of Rossetto cresting the Cat.3 Cote de Chassagne-Saint-Denis in pole position.
Behind, the peloton was led by the imposing figure of Tony Martin for most of the day, the veteran German tapping out tempo and keeping the break in check for his Jumbo-Visma sprinter Groenewegen.
Martin was joined by Denmark’s Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Belgian Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal) for much of the stage, both riders working for their respective sprinters Viviani and Ewan.
The Groupama-FDJ team of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot were also heavily present on the front as the gap hovered for the most part around the three-minute mark, dropping later to two minutes before the chase began in earnest.
With the late intermediate sprint approaching, the peloton kicked into action, cutting the gap to just over a minute as Offredo led Rossetto through before the Italian Colbrelli denied green jersey Sagan maximum points for third place when the peloton whizzed past.
The sudden increase in tempo caught a couple of big-name GC riders dozing, with Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and Ireland’s Dan Martin suddenly finding themselves at the wrong side of a split in the pack.
As the gap stretched to 30 seconds, Movistar sent back four riders to help Quintana return to the fold - and the double Tour runner-up and UAE Team Emirates’ Martin could thank their lucky stars as the peloton eventually eased.
It was a rare moment of drama and excitement in a stage during which the main highlights came from the French countryside and the spectacular aerial shots from the helicopter camera crew.
The finale was a typically tense affair as the teams of both the sprinters and GC men jostled for positions ahead of the magic 3km marker.
Sagan’s Bora team had contributed nothing to the chase, but amassed on the front in numbers - as did the Arkea Samsic team of German veteran Andre Greipel.
But after a long pull by Jumbo-Visma's Wout Van Aert, it was the usual boys in blue from QuickStep who held the advantage going into the final kilometre as Groenewegen and Ewan almost came to blows as they fought to get on Sagan’s wheel.
Ewan won that particular battle, but not the war.
Gronewegen came from deep to blitz past his rivals just ahead of the final rise to the line, with Ewan powering past on the other side of the road, but just running out of juice.
Belgium’s Philipsen, the youngest rider in the race, deputised solidly for UAE teammate Alexander Kristoff, who could only take 10th place - two places better than Greipel, the quickly deteriorating German.
Sagan’s third place saw the six-time green jersey winner move on to 177 points with Colbrelli, fourth in the stage, now his nearest challenger on 121 points - four clear of Viviani, who stuttered to sixth place in the stage.
Coming up: Stage 8 - Macon to Saint-Etienne
A persistently undulating 200km ride takes the riders over seven categorised climbs after an early intermediate sprint which could coax Sagan out into the break. With 29 points on offer in the king of the mountains competition, expect a big effort from the man in polka dots - Belgian’s Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal).
While there are no climbs above 900 metres, the challenging terrain will have the GC favourites on red alert for any potential ambushes or banana skins. With a bonus time sprint coming just 13km from the finish, Alaphlippe could be tempted to try his hand at taking back the yellow jersey he conceded to Ciccone at La Planche des Belles Filles on Thursday.