Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) sprinted to victory on stage seven of the Tour de France, to seal his first Grand Tour stage win since 2013.
Cavendish outsprinted Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the high-speed finale, in what could be the sprinters’ final showdown for at least a week.
Led into position by Mark Renshaw, Cavendish opted instead to latch onto the lead-out train of Alexander Kristoff’s Katusha team and burst out of the wheels when Greipel led the sprint out.
And the Manxman timed his acceleration to perfection, finding some extra pace when Greipel went to clear to power through on the inside and seal the 26th Tour de France stage win of his career.
Barring a crash in the neutral zone, which brought down Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), the stage was a relatively calm affair after the chaos of the opening week.
Both men remounted and rejoined the peloton without problems, before Anthony Delaplace and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) attacked from the flag to form the break in their team’s home region.
Polka dot jersey Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) also went clear, to add another climbing point to his tally on the day’s only climb, and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) completed the break.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) tested his legs by winning the kick from the bunch for the intermediate sprint, and the sprint teams traded turns on the front of the bunch throughout.
Lotto-Soudal, missing injured non-starter Greg Henderson, had a big presence on the front, as did Etixx-QuickStep, while the GC teams worked hard to protect their leaders.
The result was a steady cutting into the break’s advantage – which was kept at a controlled distance to avoid reeling them in too early.
Feillu and Mate were the last men to be caught, with little more than 11km remaining, allowing teams to fight for control over the race ahead of the roundabout-laden finale.
Nicolas Roche brought Team Sky and race leader Chris Froome forward, but there was no shortage of teams assisting the Irishman with the pace-setting as they fought for either safe positions or road position for the sprint.
The high pace strung the bunch out, and it got faster still as Giant-Alpecin, FDJ and Katusha dropped the hammer on the front – the penultimate roundabout putting several riders out of contention for the sprint as the bunch line out.
The big names were all still near the front, however, with Sagan and Cavendish both in the Katusha wheels.
Greipel opened the sprint up, but it was Cavendish who kicked hardest to earn Etixx-QuickStep’s third win in four days.
Chris Froome, meanwhile, stayed safely in the peloton to officially take over the race lead for the second time in this race – the Team Sky man will wear the yellow jersey for stage eight.
Tour de France 2015: stage seven – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Etixx-QuickStep – 4.27.25hrs
2) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Soudal – ST
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Tinkoff-Saxo
4) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin
5) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
6) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ
7) Tyler Farrar (USA) – MTN-Qhubeka
8) Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (RSA) – MTN-Qhubeka
9) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
10) Sam Bennett (IRL) – Bora-Argon 18
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 26.40.57hrs
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Tinkoff-Saxo +11”
3) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +13”
4) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Soudal +26”
5) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing +28”
6) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Etixx-QuickStep +34”
7) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +36”
8) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Etixx-QuickStep +52”
9) Warren Barguil (FRA) – Giant-Alpecin +1.01
10) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +1.03