Today's profile seemed to have Peter Sagan written all over it with the lumps at the end just hard enough to keep the pure sprinters out of the game and let the green jersey wearer's substantial speed beat the puncheurs and overall contenders who would likely make it over the final climbs in the front group. As such, there was not much fighting to get in the break and Alexandre Pichot (Europcar), Matthew Busche (Trek), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Martin Elmiger (IAM), Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché) got away inside the first ten kilometers. Then, it was sit, and wait, and wait, and wait for the catch that surely must come.
The gap hovered at a minute at 80 kilometers to go, and at 50 kilometers it was forty seconds, prompting Huzarski and Elmiger to leap clear solo in hopes of prolonging the inevitable (and gaining a combativity prize, most likely). As the bunch hit the first climb at 17 kilometers to go the duo was swept up and then Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) leapt clear in a short-lived pursuit of stage glory. As Orica-GreenEDGE ramped up the pace to catch Voeckler, Kittel, Greipel, and Démare among other sprinters went out the back door.
Coming off the penultimate descent, Tejay van Garderen was caught in a rapidly closing gap at the front of the reduced peloton and lost his front wheel, crashing hard and having to chase on a teammate's bike. With Cannondale and Omega Pharma - Quickstep putting all available hands on deck to keep things strung out before the final 1.3km climb, there was little hope of catching back on and the BMC leader would eventually finish a minute down, dropping from 11th to 18th on GC.
Ahead, a few attacks emerged and were snuffed out on the steeper gradients at the top of the final climb and Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan got a gap over the top of the climb. Sagan had finished in the top five of the first six stages but had yet to win one and this desperation was telling in the way he bombed the final descent and worked with Van Avermaet even when he had a good chance to win the sprint out of the group of 20-30 riders behind. Van Avermaet for his part was reluctant to work with Sagan at first but began to collaborate near the bottom of the descent as the duo flew past 4 kilometers to race. The duo did not work together well enough to hold off a catch by Richie Porte and then the field near the final kilometer.
Surprising many who expected him to race for the win, Michal Kwiatkowski hit the front with a teammate on his wheel inside the last 500 meters and delivered a leadout that fizzled perhaps 50 meters too soon. As he pulled off, Matteo Trentin launched his sprint and held off a charging Sagan by the narrowest of margins. Neither rider seemed to know who won the sprint until the judges declared the result in favor of Trentin by a centimeter or two at most. The stage win was the second for Trentin, who won a similar sprint after a hard day on Stage 14 of last year's Tour.
Could Sagan have won the sprint if he had not spent energy trying to get away solo? Likely, and the polemica has already started. One wonders if he simply knows he will be blackmailed into chasing everything that moves after his teammates are gone or if he is so antsy he does not want to risk losing a sprint, but the disappointment and frustration at not winning a stage yet are clear. Though he leads the points classification by a ludicrous margin already, how many more stages will he land inside the top five before winning one?
*Several crashes occurred in the final three kilometers, taking down Jurgen Van Den Broeck and then Andrew Talansky, but neither seemed to be seriously hurt.
- Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma - Quick Step)
- Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
- Tony Gallopin (Lotto - Belisol)
- Tom Dumoulin (Giant - Shimano)
- Simon Gerrans (Orica - GreenEDGE)
- Daniel Oss (BMC)
- Cyril Gautier (Europcar)
- Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling)
- Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin)
- Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
- Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
- Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), at 2"
- Peter Sagan (Cannondale), at 44"
- Peter Sagan (259pts)
- Bryan Coquard (146pts)
- Marcel Kittel (137pts)