Dylan Groenewegen edges Caleb Ewan to Stage 7 victory at Tour de France

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Dutch speed king Dylan Groenewegen edged an ultra-tight bunch sprint on Stage 7 of the Tour de France on Friday as Italy’s Giulio Ciccone retained the overall race lead.

Groenewegen beat Australia’s Caleb Ewan in a photo-finish to make up for the pain of falling on Stage 1 on the Brussels home straight.

Peter Sagan retained the sprinters’ points green jersey after finishing third.

Defending champion Geraint Thomas and his Ineos co-captain Egan Bernal finished safely in the pack.

Pure sprinter Groenewegen was left sat on his backside in Brussels when he had been red-hot favourite to win.

He was left to wonder what might have been as his team-mate Mike Teunissen won the opening stage and pulled on the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

On the longest stage of the Tour at 230km, the riders involved in the summit showdown the day before were in relaxed mood.

“I’m looking forwards to a quiet couple of stages now, we’re all really calm after a good day yesterday,” said 22-year-old Bernal ahead of the stage.

Television viewers were given a series of spectacular panoramas as the peloton, led by a beaming overall leader Ciccone, wound slowly out of the rolling hills of the Alsace with its storks and quaint villages of half-wooden houses.

But with an escape group zooming five minutes ahead after 80km, sprinter Elia Viviani’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step team cranked up the tempo on the flat plains of Burgundy, renowned for its wines and cuisine.

Stephane Rossetto of Cofidis and Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Gobert led from the start to 5km from home, before the peloton caught them to set up a sprint finish.

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Geraint Thomas delivers statement of intent in the defence of his Tour de France crown

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Geraint Thomas crossed the line fourth to climb the GC standings.

Geraint Thomas delivered a major statement of intent in the defence of his Tour de France crown as he pulled clear of young team-mate Egan Bernal on the final brutal slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles.

As Dylan Teuns won Stage 6 from the breakaway and young Italian Giulio Ciccone snatched the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Julian Alaphilippe, it was the sight of Thomas defying his own predictions and bursting clear of the main contenders at the last which caught the eye.

Much had been made of the five seconds Bernal picked up due to a momentary lapse from Thomas in the finale of Stage 3 in Epernay, and that gap was only expected to grow here as gradients hit 24 per cent and the surface turned to gravel.

Thomas spent Wednesday explaining why the stage did not suit him and pointing to Bernal as one of the favourites to profit, but the wily Welshman perhaps knew more than he was letting on.

“I was feeling good but I was unsure,” Thomas said. “I thought the steep climbs weren’t my cup of tea. I was expecting others – (Nairo) Quintana, Egan, (Adam) Yates – would jump up there. It was a decent day in the end.

“It is one of those climbs where you have to patient. When Alaphilippe went clear at 800 (metres to go), quite early, I had the confidence to let him go and ride my own temp and drive it all the way to the line from 350. I was starting to blow through. It is decent.”

Bahrain-Merida’s Teuns and Trek-Segafredo’s Ciccone were the last survivors of a 14-man breakaway on the 160.5km stage from Mulhouse, and both received rich rewards at the top of a climb which left many riders struggling to stand at the summit.

Teuns could celebrate a first career Tour victory while the 24-year-old Ciccone – a star of the Giro d’Italia in May as he took a stage win and the mountains classification – did just enough to take the yellow jersey by six seconds.

Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Alaphilippe did not give it up without a fight. Having stuck with the group of favourites all day, he attacked as the road turned to dust near the summit.

At first no-one reacted, but Thomas then found the reserves he needed to spring past the Frenchman, who slumped on to the barriers as soon as he crossed the line.

The seconds Thomas has gained may not be massive – two on Thibaut Pinot, seven on Quintana and nine on a group including Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte and of course Bernal – but given the question marks over his form this was a clear answer.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates and UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin lost the wheels at the last, finishing 14 seconds behind Thomas.

Porte’s team-mate Ciccone now leads by six seconds from Alaphilippe, with Teuns up to third, 32 seconds down. Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett slots into fourth, two seconds ahead of Thomas who is 49 seconds off yellow.

In the Tour’s three previous visits to this mountain the man in yellow at the end of the day has worn it in Paris at the end of the race, but Thomas’ late dig suggests this edition has many more twists to come.

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Elia Viviani claims first career Tour de France stage win in Nancy

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As Elia Viviani claimed his first career Tour de France stage win by a wheel length in Nancy, the debate continued as to the size and significance of the margin that separated Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal 24 hours earlier.

Viviani edged out Alexander Kristoff and Caleb Ewan in the first pure sprint of this year’s Tour, giving the Italian the Tour victory he craved to go with his five career Giro d’Italia stages and three in La Vuelta.

The sprint finish meant there was no change in the general classification, which Viviani’s Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mate Julian Alaphilippe leads after his superb solo attack into Epernay on Monday.

As Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford was happy to tell anyone, Alaphilippe has “not a chance” of keeping yellow through the mountains, so it is the gaps further down that matter, and the one that has caught the eye is the five-second cushion that separates Bernal in sixth from Thomas in seventh.

That was the product of a slight gap between the pair as they crossed the line in Epernay, enough for them to be deemed in different groups on the road.

The time gap may be small, the actual margin on the road smaller, but as the two men vie for leadership of Team Ineos, the defending champion could have done without conceding it.

“It is what it is,” Thomas said. “No-one wins the Tour on five-second sprint finishes but obviously it would be better not to have lost that.

“I was hoping just to slowly drift back a bit and the next thing I know no-one is coming past me and I was like ‘I have to try and close this gap’ but it was a bit late by then.

“Obviously five seconds – it is nice not to lose that. If I am off the podium by four I might be more disappointed.”

Regardless of what the time sheets said, Brailsford seemed ready to deny the gap existed at all.

“It wasn’t a five-second gap though, was it?” he said. “I think way too much has been made of it, if I am honest. If anyone understands the sport, you watch the sport, there is a 30-metre gap. ‘G’ sat up a little bit, he thought people were trying to come over him and that is it.

“People are trying to make out that it is a five-second gap and it is not….It makes no difference.”

The difference on the day was made by Viviani, who had the speed and strength to hold off the hard-charging Kristoff and Ewan.

It was sweet reward for the 30-year-old, who had been frustrated to leave the Giro empty-handed in May, and found the finishing incline of Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour in Brussels too difficult.

“It means a lot,” said Viviani. “Probably I can’t believe it still. It was a big goal of the year. We missed the first chance and put the yellow on.

“But I think after Julian’s phenomenal ride yesterday, it’s a moment when you switch on the team. Today we did a perfect job, you saw how the lead-out did.

“I’m pretty happy. I was missing this win. I won in the Giro and the Vuelta and now in the Tour de France, that means a lot to me.”

The rest of the peloton were simply happy to make it through a sketchy final five kilometres of the 213.5km run from Reims unscathed, with the route designers sending them barrelling down a wide dual carriageway before a roundabout funnelled them into a tight left-hander two kilometres from the line.

“That’s the problem with these 200km days,” said Team Ineos road captain Luke Rowe. “They kind of tend to be a lot of rolling around but then a hectic final.

“It’s another day ticked off where we’re all still on our bikes and we’ve still got our skin.”

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