Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) pipped Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to stage seven victory at the Tour de France in a thrilling photo finish.
A furious pace at the front of the bunch on a rolling finale meant a significantly reduced leading group came to the finish – with two crashes in the final kilometre reducing the numbers further.
Michal Kwiatkowski led team-mate Trentin out, though pre-stage favourite Sagan came round him and matched him stroke for stroke before lunging desperately for the line.
Trentin even offered congratulations to the Slovakian on the line, but the photo finish showed the Italian had snatched it by the smallest possible margin to win the stage.
The second longest stage of this year’s race saw the peloton enjoy better road conditions than they had endured over the previous two days.
A six-man break went clear early on, with Swiss champion Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) among them and Nicolas Edet (Cofisis) among those in tow.
Bartosz Huzarski (Team NetApp-Endura), Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), Alexandre Pichot (Team Europcar) and Matthew Busche rounded off the group who were allowed to go clear and clock up the breakaway miles.
Cannondale were the team to lead the chase, the Green Machine clearly fancying Peter Sagan on the undulating finale to the stage.
Their pace, at times, caused big splits in the bunch but the echelons which formed were quickly brought back together as Cannondale – and Astana alongside them – maintained a steady pattern of accelerating and easing off with the distance clearly on their minds.
Up the road, it quickly became apparent the break were doomed to failure and there was still some 70 kilometres to go when Elmiger started pointing the finger as he perceived his companions’ efforts to be dropping.
Edet took advantage to attack, with the remaining riders looking at each other, flicking elbows and urging someone else to lead the chase.
Eventually it was Elmiger and Huzarski who took it up, dropping the remains of the break – including Edet as they sought out the day’s combativity award.
Cannondale, who were joined by the likes of Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky at the front, were happy to leave the two hanging out in front as they sought to stop any counter-attacks going clear over the rolling finale.
The two were finally reeled in on the first of the two category-four climbs, by which point riders were already being shelled off the back – John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and the out-of-touch Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) among them.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) were also dropped, as Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) made a short-lived attack off the front.
With the pace being ramped right up by the likes of Orica-GreenEDGE and Tinkoff-Saxo, the bunch was massively reduced as Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) suffered a crash with less than 15 kilometres to go.
A quick bike swap with Peter Velits ensued, but with the bunch setting such a furious pace his chance of latching back on appeared very slim.
Team-mate Darwin Atapuma was forced out of the race by the crash, too, as the American team suffered a double blow to their Tour hopes.
Back at the front, the pace in the bunch was frantic with no shortage of teams happy to take a turn on the front with the peloton spread across the road.
Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) were among the huge engines to hit the front.
Peter Sagan remained in the front, however, and as Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) attacked over the summit of the final climb the Slovakian went with him.
Van Avermaet’s attack came with van Garderen still chasing on, and he stayed on Sagan’s wheel despite the Slovakian’s angry attempts to call him through to the front.
With the bunch bearing down on them however, the elbow flicks turned into worried looks over the shoulder by both of the escapees.
Richie Porte (Team Sky) took the bunch across – a smart move as it kept him safe from a big crash on the final bend – but Omega Pharma-Quickstep took charge on the front.
Michal Kwiatkowski led the race under the flamme rouge, for the second stage running, but this time the reduced leading group stick with him – Trentin on his wheel.
Trentin launched a long sprint, as Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) fell heavily behind him, but Sagan went again bursting around the Italian with a huge lunge for the line.
It meant a photo finish, and Trentin snatched victory by mere millimetres to open the Belgian super team’s account for this year’s race and follow his stage victory from last year’s race.
Tour de France 2014: stage seven – result
1) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 5.18.39hrs
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale – ST
3) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol
4) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Shimano
5) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Daniel Oss (ITA) – BMC Racing
7) Cyril Gautier (FRA) – Team Europcar
8) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – IAM Cycling
9) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Belkin Pro Cycling
10) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing
General classification (provisional)
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 29.57.04hrs
2) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +2”
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale +44”
4) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +50”
5) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol +1.45
6) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +1.54
7) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +1.56
8) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +2.11
9) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – ST
10) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida