Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won stage seven of the 2013 Tour de France in a sprint finish in Albi to extend his lead at the top of the points classification.
The Slovakian sprinter had finished second on three occasions during this year’s Tour, but his team got their tactics spot on early in the stage to shed his rival sprinters from the back of the peloton.
Having done so, they continued to drive the bunch to deliver the green jersey holder to victory ahead of John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Daniele Bennati (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) on the final straight.
Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) ensured he kept hold of the yellow jersey meanwhile, but Pierre Rolland (Europcar) lost the polka dot jersey to Albi native Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
The peloton set off at an incredible pace as the stage kicked off on relatively flat terrain, and an attempted escape instigated by Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) lasted just seven kilometres before it was caught.
Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) and Kadri, who were both in the failed six-man break, went clear again three kilometres later though and this time built a big lead.
They were aided by a crash in the peloton, which saw Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and Michael Schar (BMC Racing) all hit the deck after 11km.
For Vande Velde, who also fell badly two days ago, it proved one crash too many and the soon-to-retire American was forced to abandon his farewell Tour, joining Astana’s Janez Brajkovic who withdrew overnight.
It left 189 riders in the race with Kadri and Voigt leading the way over the first categorised climb, the category three Col des 13 Vents, with the Ag2r-La Mondiale rider boosting his King of the Mountains bid by crossing the summit ahead of Voigt.
They also led over the second climb, the Col de la Croix de Mounis, with Kadri moving into the polka dot jersey position by crossing first, while good work from team mate Romain Bardet ensured Rolland only crossed fourth.
It was events further back on the climb which proved most important in shaping the race however as Sagan’s team mates read it perfectly.
The pace they set at the front of the peloton proved far too quick for the other sprinter’s teams as Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) all found themselves off the back in two separate groups.
Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quickstep team mates worked to bring the two together with a strong ride in the grupetto but Cannondale continued to set a fast pace to keep the peloton clear at the front.
Sagan further extended his green jersey lead by taking maximum points on the intermediate sprint, challenged only by Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) as Fabio Sabatini (Cannondale) and Orica-GreenEDGE duo Simon Clarke and Simon Gerrans followed them through.
After the intermediate sprint, stage two winner Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard), who wore the yellow jersey for stages three and four, went off the front with Juanjo Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) joining him in the break.
The break, which put Bakelants in the virtual yellow jersey, forced the peloton to up the pace and ended any hope the trailing group had of catching it for a bunch sprint, and they gave up the chase with 40km to go.
Bakelants led the escapees over the two remaining climbs, with Gautier also collecting a climbing point – results which ensured Kadri will wear the polka dot jersey in stage eight.
In the peloton, Cannondale continued to work hard driving the peloton, with Sky remaining handy and Orica-GreenEDGE keeping yellow jersey Impey at the front too.
But after the break was caught, Sagan proved why he is the favourite for the green jersey by timing his sprint to perfection to take his first victory of this year’s Tour.
Tour de France 2013 – stage seven result
1 Peter Sagan (SVK) Cannondale 4:54:12
2 John Degenkolb (GER) Argos-Shimano same time
3 Daniele Bennati (ITA) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) Sky Procycling
6 Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) Astana Pro Team
7 Tony Gallopin (FRA) RadioShack Leopard
8 Arthur Vichot (FRA) FDJ
9 Manuele Mori (ITA) Lampre-Merida
10 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
1 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE 27:12:29
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling +3″
3 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE +5″
4 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEDGE same time
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +6″
6 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep same time
7 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling +8″
8 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling same time
9 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +14″
10 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff same time