Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) sprinted to victory on stage seven of the Giro d’Italia, beating Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) to record his second win of this year’s race.
The Frenchman – whose previous success came on the neutralised stage in Bari – won in much better circumstances this time out.
Though Giant-Shimano led the sprint out, Bouhanni – who had to fight for a position on the wheels – came round Mezgec and had just enough to hold off Nizzolo.
Michael Matthews, meanwhile, retained the pink jersey with fourth place as the final stage ahead of the mountainous weekend proved to be a much more straight-forward affair than the crash hit stage six.
Maxime Mederel (Team Europcar) and Brett Lancaster (Orica-GreenEDGE) joined Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the ‘did not start’ list as a patched-up peloton rolled out for the stage in Frosinone.
Andrey Amador (Movistar), Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Dario Cataldo (Team Sky) were among those sporting bandages for the stage, with 60 riders in all having crashed in the carnage towards the end of stage six.
Unsurprisingly the bunch set a more sedate pace for the start of the stage, allowing a break of five riders to go clear early on – Robinson Chalapud (Colombia), Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF), Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida), Bjorn Thurau (Team Europcar) and Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp).
With none a threat to the points, mountains or general classifications they were allowed to build a sizable lead, and even when the Orica-GreenEDGE-led peloton brought them into check the gap remained around the five-minute mark.
Chalapud swept maximum sprint points, for what they worth, while Haas led the way over the day’s solitary climb but aside from those intermediate points, the break largely worked well together.
Tensions were raised slightly, and a few angry elbow flicks were directed at Haas when it was felt the Australian was not taking his turns at the front – perhaps thinking about conserving energy in case they stayed out.
But they remained well clear of the bunch over the top of the Valico della Somma with less than 40 kilometres remaining.
It prompted Giant-Shimano and Cannondale to come forward and up the pace, while race radio passed the message on to keep the bunch lined out as they approached a stretch littered with road furniture.
Benie Eisel (Team Sky) and Eugenio Alafaci (Trek Factory Racing) both came to grief on one such roundabout, but both remounted their bikes without any trouble.
Elsewhere Tyler Farrar dropped off the back after suffering a mechanical but team-mate Dylan van Baarle did well to lead him back onto the back of the bunch – by which point the gap to the escapees had fallen to less than two minutes.
It had fallen further still as they hit the ten kilometres to go flag, prompting Haas to drop the hammer – but with the break falling apart it was apparent any hope they had of staying out was fast diminishing.
Thurau was next to try his luck from the break, but again it was marked and with six kilometres to go, BMC Racing and Giant-Shimano had almost closed the gap on the front of the bunch.
The race came together to set up the bunch sprint however, with Giant-Shimano leading the way into the final kilometre.
Luka Mezgec opened his sprint up first, with Tom Veelers having led him out, but Bouhanni came from his wheel to pass the Slovenian and win in much better circumstances than his rain-affected win in Bari.
Matthews, devoid of a lead-out after their efforts in the bunch, got up to fourth to stay in the maglia rosa ahead of a difficult weekend for the riders, who head to Montecopiolo on stage eight.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage seven – result
1) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr – 5.16.06hrs
2) Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
3) Luka Mezgec (SVN) – Giant-Shimano
4) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
5) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
6) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Sharp
7) Enrico Battaglin (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF
8) Boy van Poppel (NED) – Trek Factory Racing
9) Ivan Rovny (RUS) – Tinkoff-Saxo
10) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Cannondale
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 29.34.19hrs
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +21”
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.18
4) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.25
5) Steve Morabito (SUI) – BMC Racing – ST
6) Matteo Rabottini (ITA) – Neri Sottoli
7) Ivan Santaromita (ITA) – Orica-GreenEDGE +1.47
8) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +1.51
9) Tim Wellens (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +1.52
10) Ivan Basso (ITA) – Cannondale +2.06