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Riding away from a 29-rider breakaway, Cummings soloed to victory in the first Pyrenean stage at the Tour de France; Van Avermaet finished 5th and extended his lead while a collapsed 1km-to-go banner created chaos in the finale

Photo: RCS Sport - ANSA / Peri - Zennaro

DANIEL NAVARRO GARCIA

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DARYL IMPEY

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DIMENSION DATA

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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STEPHEN CUMMINGS

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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08.07.2016 @ 17:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) confirmed his status as probably the best stage hunter in the peloton by claiming his fourth stage win in his fourth WorldTour stage race of 2016 on stage 7 of the Tour de France. The Brit soloed away from a 29-rider breakaway and continued to increase his advantage all the way up the Col d’Aspin to claim his second Tour de France stage victory with an advantage of 1.05 over Daryl Impey (Orica-BikeExchange) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis). Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) joined the break, finished 5th and extended his overall lead while Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was the only loser in a ceasefire between the GC riders. A collapsed 1km-to-go-banner created chaos in the finale and brought down Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) who had attacked over the top of the Aspin.

 

For many years, Stephen Cummings was a relatively anonymous domestique at big teams like BMC and Sky. He won a stage at the Vuelta, the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of Beijing but he didn’t got many personal opportunities.

 

The Brit didn’t like his role and so moved to the Dimension Data team for the 2015 season. The change has been magical as he has now developed into one of the best stage hunters in the world.

 

It all started when he won a stage at last year’s Tour de France but it is the 2016 season that has really proved his status. This year he has done four WorldTour stage races – Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Criterium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France – and after he claimed a fantastic solo win in today’s final stage of the latter race, he has now won stages in every top level stage race he has done this year!

 

Cummings was strong to join a 29-rider breakaway after a fast and hectic start to the stage and then bided his time for most of the day. When three riders attacked before the day’s only big climb, the Col d’Aspin, he bridged across and then made his solo move. Despite a hard chase effort from Daniel Navarro, Daryl Impey and an aggressive Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), no one could stop the Brit who extended his lead all the way up the climb before soloing across the line.

 

Greg Van Avermaet decided that the best way to defend the jersey was to attack and the Belgian spent the day in the break before claiming a fifth place. At the same time, he extended his overall lead to more than 6 minutes.

 

The GC riders opted for a ceasefire and the only loser was Thibaut Pinot whose FDJ team had set the pace on the lower slopes on the climb. The Frenchman was dropped near the top and lost almost three minutes.

 

For Adam Yates, the race ended as a disaster. Having attacked over the top of the climb, he seemed to gain a few seconds on his rivals but the 1km-to-go banner collapsed just as he passed. The times were taken at the 3km to go mark but the Brit rolled across the line with a bloodied face.

 

After an aggressive start, Cummings hit the Col d’Aspin with an advantage of 35 seconds over a chase group consisting of Daryl Impey, Daniel Navarro, Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie), Matti Breschel, Alex Howes (both Cannondale), Nibali, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Van Avermaet and Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo) and 1.15 to the rest of the original break. The peloton which was led by Sky and Movistar was at 5.10 but they were accelerating as the fight for position had intensified.

 

Nibali attacked right from the bottom and only Howes, Navarro, Van Avermaet and Impey could follow. It was a duel between Nibali and Cummings on the lower slopes, with the Italian keeping the gap at 30 seconds.

 

FDJ hit the front of the peloton in the big fight for position and it was Argur Vichot, Matthieu Ladanous and Thibaut Pinot who led the peloton onto the climb. The group exploded immediately as the heavy guys sat up. Howes was dropped from the chase group as Nibali upped the pace and Ladagnous took over the pace-setting in the peloton.

 

The fight for GC started when Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) attacked from afar but FDJ reacted immediately as Steve Morabito hit the front. Meanwhile Van Avermaet was unable to keep up with the Nibali group.

 

Barguil was quickly brought back by Morabito who continued to ride on the front as they reached the halfway point of the climb. At this point, Cummings had extended his advantage to 35 seconds while the peloton was at 4.30 and constantly picking up escapees.

 

Cummings continued to increase his advantage which was 55 seconds when he entered the final 10km. At the same time, the peloton slowed down when Moabito swung off and no one took the initiative.

 

Wout Poels, Tony Martin and Lawson Craddock patrolled the front as the peloton rode slowly but nonetheless one of the biggest favourites was dropped. Pinot lost contact and even though Morabito waited for him and the peloton continued the slow pace, he lost lots of ground.

 

Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) attacked and was joined by Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) while Navarro attacked from the chase group. Nibali realized that he didn’t have it and was unable to keep up with Impey when the South African gave chase.

 

Pozzovivo and Pantano picked up Alexis Vuillermoz who sacrificed himself from his teammate. Meanwhile, Cummings crested the summit with an advantage of more than a minute over Navarro and Impey after the South African had made it back. Nibali was fourth over the summit while Van Avermaet reached the top with a loss of 2.40.

 

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked from the peloton and immediately joined Pozzovivo who had left Pantano behind. However, Poels started to ride hard for Sky and quickly brought the pair back. His fast pace was too much for Barguil who was dropped close to the top. He made it back on the descent. Just before the summit, Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) attacked and the pair got a small advantage before they started the descent.

 

Cummings stayed safe in the downhill section and reached the final kilometre with an advantage of more than a minute. After looking back a few times, he sat up to celebrate the fourth stage win for Dimension Data in just seven days of racing. Impey and Navarro arrived 1.05 later and it was easy sprint win for the South African to take second. Nibali arrived with a time loss of 2.45 while Van Avermaet took fifth with a time loss of 3.04.

 

The peloton negotiated the descent safely and so things were looking good for Yates and Martin when disaster struck. The 1km-to-go-banner collapsed just as they passed and while the Irishman got safely through, the Brit was brought down. Luckily the peloton was warned in time and rolled slowly to the finish while a bloody Yates arrived much later. It was later announced that the times would be taken at the 3km to go mark. A dejected Pinot lost almost three minutes.

 

With his impressive ride, Van Avermaet extended his overall lead to 6.36 over Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep). However, there will be no room to rest as stage 8 is even harder. After a flat start of around 65km, the riders will tackle the famous Col du Tourmalet, the first HC climb of the race. From there, no recovery is allowed as the Hourquette d’Ancizan, Cold de Val Louron-Azet and Col de Peyresourde come in quick succession. The top of the final climb comes just 15.5km from the finish and from there it is a downhill run to the line.

 

The first mountain stage

After yesterday’s sprint stage, it was finally time to head into the mountains on stage 7 where the peloton tackled 162.5km between L’Isle-Jourdain and Lac de Payrolle. The first part of the stage was almost completely flat and then a small category 4 climb served as a warm-up for the finale. The big challenge was the category 1 climb of Col d’Aspin which averaged 6.5% over 12km and summited just 7km from the finish. From there, it was a short descent and 1200 m of slight uphill to the finish.

 

A blue sky and 29 degrees greeted the 198 riders when they gathered for the start and headed towards the high mountains on the south. Five riders attacked straight from the gun and they were soon joined by another seven riders to make it a 12-rider group that gathered after just 3km. Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) Ramūnas Navardauskas (Cannondale-Drapac), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Cesare Benedetti (Bora argon 18), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Nicolas Edet, Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis) and Chris Anker Sørensen (Fortuneo Vital Concept) built a gap of 15 seconds before Etixx-Quick Step started to chase. However, the break won the battle at first as the gap went out to 30 seconds.

 

A hard chase

The advantage stayed around that mark for a while but when it grew to 40 seconds, Lotto Soudal also came to the fore. Two riders from the Belgian team and four from Etixx-Quick Step worked hard to bring the break back but for a long time, the gap stayed at 35 seconds. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) was among the riders to take some huge turns.

 

Sanchez asked Cavendish and Sagan to drop back as Etixx-QuickStep were chasing to keep Kittel in contention for the green jersey and they finally decided to sit up. However, that didn’t end the chase and the break was unable to keep the peloton at bay.

 

A big break is established

When they were nearly caught, Bendetti, Navardauskas and Roy attacked again and they were joined by Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data). However, it all came back together with 113km to go.

 

The attacking started again and it was Fabian Cancellara (Trek) who laid the foundations for the early break when he made a move. A 9-rider group gathered in front and gradually more and more riders bridged across. When more than 20 riders were together, a strong trio with Greg Van Avermaet, Vincenzo Nibal and Vasil Kiryienka also made the junction.

 

The peloton slows down

A few more riders bridged across and then the peloton slowed completely down. Voss looked back and realized that they had gone clear and so decided to wait for the rest of the group. Hence, a 29-rider group had gathered in front with 110km to go.

 

The group consisted of Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Jan Bakelants, Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r), Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo), Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven (Trek), Oliver Naesen (IAM), Matti Breschel, Sebastian Langeveld, Alex Howes (Cannondale), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18), Angel Vicioso (Katusha), Kristijan Durasek, Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal), Sylvain Chavanel, Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie), Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Luis Angel Mate, Borut Bozic, Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Daryl Impey (Orica-BikeExchange) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and they quickly got an advantage of a minute. That was the signal for Sky to hit the front with Luke Rowe but he was not really chasing. The gap reached 2.30 before he got some assistance from teammate Ian Stannard.

 

Sky and Movistar up the pace

With 100km to go, Sky stopped their work and as BMC hit the front, the peloton came to a standstill. With Van Avermaet in the break, they had no reason to chase at all and so the gap grew rapidly. Sky lost the tactical battle and again started to work with Rowe. However, he was unable to match the pace of the strong front group which had increased the advantage to 5 minutes when they entered the final 90km.

 

Movistar took their share of the responsibility as they put Imanol Erviti on the front and he worked with Stannard and Rowe to make sure that the gap didn’t get out of control. Apparently, they had decided that they wanted to keep the strong break at 5.30 and they worked well together to keep it at that mark for several kilometres.

 

The gap comes down

Entering the final 70km, Movistar and Sky upped the pace and during the next 60km, they shaved one minute off the advantage. From there it stabilized again and when they hit the first climb with 52km to go, the gap was still 4.40.

 

Going up the climb, the gap came steadily down and when Nibali showed his intentions to go for the mountains jersey by winning the sprint, it was only 3.55. Movistar had even added more firepower to the chase as Winner Anacona was now contributing to the pace-setting.

 

The break splits up

With the gap coming down fast, Nibali tried to attack but he was closely marked by Duchesne and Vicioso and so he failed to get clear. Duchesne and Breschel countered and were joined by Navarro. The trio worked well together to get an advantage of 15 seconds with 40km to go.

 

There were constant attacks from the chase group but it was a strong counterattack from Cummings that made the difference. The Brit quickly bridged the gap and so a great front quartet had gathered. Further back, a group with the likes of Van Avermaet, Martens, Impey, Howes, Perichon and Lutsenko had gathered and Sky asked Kiryienka to wait for the peloton.

 

Nibali bridges across

Anacona stopped his work and Erviti, Stannard and Rowe were unable to match the front quartet which had extended their advantage to 4.40 with 32km to go. At this point the chasers were at 25 seconds.

 

Nibali and Geschke bridged the gap to the six chasers and the Lutsenko sacrificed himself completely for the Giro champion. When they had nearly bridged the gap, Cummings attacked again and while Navarro gave chase, he immediately got a big gap.

 

Breschel and Duchesne were caught by the Nibali group before the sprint which was won by Cummings ahead of Navarro and Martens. The Brit entered the final 25km with an advantage of 4.50 over the peloton and 15 seconds over the chasers. Navarro was brought back by the chase group but they continued to lose ground until they hit the Aspin where the final action unfolded. 

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