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Froome Conquers Dauphiné Queen Stage but Van Garderen gets Yellow

Chris Froome won stage 7 of the Dauphiné, halving his deficit to set up a thrilling final day.

Doug Pensinger

A fourteen-man break got away on the only flat part of the stage, but just like yesterday, the peloton just couldn't let it lie. Pierre Rolland sent a man into the break, and immediately chased it down, so he could attack on the first climb. His attack didn't work though, and an 11-man group maintained a 2'30" gap. However, the situation behind them continued to change, with riders who were dropped and new attacks, with 25 riders in front as Rolland finally made it to the front group, along with Meintjes. It was a huge break, over twenty riders including Navarro, Rolland, De la Cruz, Sorensen, Mollema, Zoidl, Meintjes, Vuillermoz and, yes, Daniel Teklehaimanot, who backed off yesterday, finishing outside the time limit in a huge gruppetto so he could gain some more KOM points today, and that he did, taking the ten points at the top of the first two cat. 1 mountains to increase his lead.

Sky started pulling the peloton with 63 kilometres to go and brought the gap down immediately, taking two minutes out of the break and dropping half the peloton, it was under 50 riders by this stage, and shrinking. Then came the big shock. The peloton was at a canter, only 1' 20" behind, as Simon Yates, 4th on GC, and Wilco Kelderman were dropped. The White Jersey did get back, but things didn't look good for him.

As big breaks tend to be, the front group was unco-operative, Rolland riding quickly, but no one willing to follow, then Zoidl doing the same, but getting a gap with Daniel Navarro, and the pair rode very well, extending the gap to an impressive three minutes, despite Ian Boswell still riding on the front. Huzarski and Castroviejonoticed this, and set off in pursuit. As the climbing started Zoidl and Navarro had 2' 50".

The inclines were steep, and the breakaway slowed to almost walking pace at the 11% pitches. The peloton were in the process of dropping everyone not in peak condition, including Bauke Mollema, and yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali, who was clearly paying for his efforts yesterday, struggling as his team mates clustered aroun him, going slower than they could have, showing the Italian's predicament. Andrew Talansky and Ruí Costa were  also dropped by Peter Kennaugh's searing pace. Up front, the leaders were caught by Huzarski and Castroviejo on the descent of the Côte des Amerands.

Castroviejo attacked the main group, achieving nothing but one less Austrian champion in the group. He attacked again, only bringing Navarro as behind his team mate Valverde was dropped and Dan Martin somehow disappeared, despite making it over the first climb.

With 3.5 kilometres left, Froome attacked with Van Garderen, catching the break as the peloton floundered. The two worked together, and it looked like they would fight out the stage and the race between themselves. Beñat Intxausti was the closest to them, struggling up the mountain with Louis Meintjes on his wheel.

Froome was doing the majority of the work, spinning what looked like a slightly larger gear than usual, but Van Garderen did give his fair share. It wasn't enough for Froome though! He attacked with 1.5 kilometres left, and Van Garderen had no immediate response other than to led him go and ride steadily, praying that he could make up the time to keep his jersey. Froome hit the hardest part of the climb, spinning along as Van Garderen struggled, but he had not capitulated completely, keeping Froome in his sights, riding intelligently.

The Sky man's head bobbed up and down, he was on the brake hoods on the 10% gradients, and got out of the saddle in the last few hundred metres. As the road flattened out, he sprinted, throwing his arms in the air crossing the line as the clock began to tick. And went on ticking for seventeen seconds, halving Van Garderen's advantage. Intxausti came in accompanied by Meintjes 40 seconds behind, and was outsprinted by the South African. Rodríguez came in fifth, and Bardet and Talansky put in fighting rides, as Dan Martin sprinted home after what I can only imagine was a mechanical.

Tomorrow's stage will be, I can only presume, Froome vs Van Garderen on a tricky-yet-not-brutal stage, but it will be difficult to control. Expect fireworks.
I'm too lazy to type out the results.