The first day in the Pyrenees for the 2016 Tour de France seemed like the moment when Stage 5 winner Greg Van Avermaet might lose the yellow jersey to one of the true contenders for the general classification. Never much of a mountain climber, Van Avermaet appeared destined to fall behind riders like defending champion Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, and the rest of the favorites for this year’s race. Instead, the Belgian veteran was allowed to break away and consolidate his lead, finishing 3:05 behind stage winner Steve Cummings to increase his advantage at the top of the leaderboard.
Fifty miles into the stage, a nine-man breakaway was initiated by former time-trial world champion Fabian Cancellara. Cancellara, who has won eight Tour stages and spent 29 days in the yellow jersey over his career (the record for the most days by a cyclist who has not actually won the Tour), soon found himself surrounded by 20 more riders as the lead group ballooned to 29 riders. It was in this larger group that Van Avermaet was allowed to slip away, along with former GC contender Vincenzo Nibali, who lost considerable time in the Massif Central and was now left to hunt for stage wins. With so much firepower in the breakaway, it took less than 15 kilometers until the leaders increased the gap to over four minutes on the road.
Cancellara looked intent on trying to take a long solo ride to victory, breaking free from the lead group 87 kilometers from the finish, but was soon called back into the fold of the breakaway group by Trek-Segafredo managers on his radio earpiece. By that point the gap over the field had grown to more than six minutes, and there seemed to be little impetus to begin reeling in the stage leaders before the mountains arrived in earnest.
The fourth-category Cote de Cavern — 7.7 kilometers of a 3.1% average gradientproved long but shallow, and the breakaway remained integrated as Nibali nipped ahead to nab the King of the Mountains points at the summit. Nibali kept up the pace on the downslope, hoping to rebuild an advantage that had dipped under four minutes. Instead the pace fractured the breakaway before the long, arduous slog up the Col d’Aspin, and the trio of Antoine Duchesne, Daniel Navarro, and Matti Breschel broke clear and quickly gained a 20-second advantage on the other 26 riders. Van Avermaet made the first move to bridge the gap, but instead it was Steve Cummings who successfully crossed over to round out the quartet at the front.
Van Avermaet was soon joined by eight other riders, who chased in vain after the four leaders. With the yellow jersey bearing down and threatening a total reintegration of the breakaway, Cummings read the writing on the wall and made his bid for the stage win. Accelerating away from Breschel and Duchesne, the British rider held off a chasing Navarro to consolidate his solo run with 25 kilometers to go from the finish. The yellow jersey group joined on with Breschel and Duchesne in chase, eventually catching Navarro in the process.
Then the Col d’Aspin hit. Featuring 12 kilometers of climbing at an average 6.5% gradient, including a two-mile stretch in the middle that pitches over eight percent, the first major climb of the race began to splinter things apart all throughout the field of 198 riders. Nibali, Navarro, and Daryl Impey broke free, and Van Avermaet chased for a while before settling in at his own pace and consolidating what additional advantage he could in the general classification. Nibali also cracked before the summit, ceding ground to Impey and Navarro. Cummings had built his lead to over a minute by the summit, and he crossed the finish line in Lac de Payolle 65 seconds ahead of the chasing pair.
Three minutes after Cummings claimed the victory, Van Avermaet crossed nearly a minute and a half ahead of the race favorites. In the process he not only preserved his lead but built up the gap in the race for the yellow jersey, holding nearly six minutes’ advantage on the group of favorites that includes Froome, Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Warren Barguil, and Joaquim Rodriguez.
Will six minutes be enough to maintain that lead for two more days in the Pyrenees? All 198 riders who started this year’s Tour remain in the race as the roads pitch even further skyward in Saturday’s Stage 8, which will take the field over the Col du Tourmalet (the highest point of this year’s race) along with three other first- or second-category climbs. Van Avermaet is unlikely to have such fortuitous luck as he enjoyed in Stage 7, but he should remain in yellow for Sunday. Whether he retains it through Monday’s first rest day depends on how much he has developed into a climber and how much momentum the jersey itself provides.
Stage Results and Standings after Stage 7
|1||Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data||3:51:58|
|2||Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-BikeExchange||+0:01:05|
|3||Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|4||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||+0:02:14|
|5||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||+0:03:04|
|6||Luis Angel Mate (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||+0:04:29|
|7||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky|
|8||Wouter Poels (Ned) Team Sky|
|9||Gorka Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar Team|
|10||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team|
General Classification (yellow jersey)
|1||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||34:09:44|
|2||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||+0:05:50|
|3||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||+0:05:51|
|4||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||+0:05:53|
|5||Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||+0:05:54|
|6||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||+0:05:57|
|7||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team|
|8||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|9||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Cannondale-Drapac|
|10||Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step|
Points Classification (green jersey)
|1||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data||204|
|2||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step|
|3||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team|
|4||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie||112|
|5||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||90|
|6||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal||89|
|7||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||74|
|8||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||64|
|9||Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange||57|
|10||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||53|
King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey)
|1||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||13|
|2||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||13|
|3||Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data||10|
|4||Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||8|
|5||Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-BikeExchange||6|
|6||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||5|
|7||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||5|
|8||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team||5|
|9||Jan Barta (Cze) Bora-Argon 18||4|
|10||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Lampre – Merida||3|
Best Young Rider (white jersey)
|1||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||34:15:34|
|2||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||+0:00:01|
|3||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin||+0:00:07|
|4||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|5||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:00:18|
|6||Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18||+0:03:52|
|7||Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||+0:03:59|
|8||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18||+0:07:01|
|9||Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale-Drapac||+0:12:06|
|10||Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Lampre – Merida||+0:25:31|