Sky Double Dips: Froome Takes Stage; Wiggins Takes Jersey
Stage 7 was the first test of individual and team strength in this year's Tour de France.
Today was a day to remember for Team Sky. Chris Froome took Stage 7, a 199-km ride from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles, in 4:58:35. Cadel Evans (BMC) outsprinted Wiggins for second at 0:02. To add to the British squad's good fortune, Wiggins took the maillot jaune.
About 20 km into the stage, the break du jour formed. It included Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff), Dmitri Fofonov (Astana), Martin Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge). The septet ran up a six-minute advantage before the peloton chased.
The pursuit was gradual. The fugitives' lead fell from 4:00 with 50 km left, to 2:44 with 30 km remaining, to 1:36 with 20 km to go.
With six km left, the bunch absorbed the break. Sky's acceleration split the field and shelled rider after rider. Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) were dropped, as were Frank Schleck and Andreas Kloden (both from RadioShack-Nissan), and yellow jersey Cancellara. With five km left, Wiggins, Froome, Evans, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Richie Porte (both from Sky), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), and Denis Menchov (Katusha) remained in front.
Attrition took its toll, and Evans, Wiggins, Froome, Taaramae, and Nibali went into the last km together. With 400 m left, Evans attacked, but Froome responded and took the lead. The runner-up in last year's Vuelta held on for the win.
Froome and Wiggins were thrilled with the day's events. Froome said, "It wasn't the plan to go for the stage win, my only concern was keeping Bradley up there. We'd come to see this climb previously and I knew what the finish was like. When it came to it, I thought ‘I'm there, I've got the legs, so why not give it a kick and see what happens.' I just couldn't believe it when Cadel couldn't follow my wheel. I thought ‘Wow! This could actually come off', and it did."
For Wiggins, today was a dream come true. "It's an incredible feeling to have done what we've done," he said, "and it hasn't sunk in yet. It sounds corny, but this is something I've dreamt of since I was a child - sat on the home trainer in Kilburn watching my hero Miguel Indurain do it. Those dreams have come true now and I'm sitting here at the top of a mountain in yellow. It's phenomenal."
BMC directeur sportif John Lelangue put the best face on events for his squad. "It's a good outcome for the team," he said. "We almost won the stage, Cadel did not lose time, but earned some places against other leaders fighting for the overall. There was a good teamwork with Cadel, who was well positioned by his teammates at the start of the climb. Then Tejay sacrificed himself in the flatter section before the two last kilometers, as we planned this morning. So we can say it's been a successful operation."
In the overall, Wiggins leads Evans by 0:10 and Nibali by 0:16. Stage 8 will be harder than Stage 7, and it could be an standing shaker as well. The 157.5-km ride from Belfort, France to Porrentruy, Switzerland will feature seven categorized climbs including four Category 2 ascents and the Category 1 Col de la Croix, the summit of which is 16 km from the finish. Will someone steal the lead or the yellow jersey on the de la Croix and keep it on the downhill run to the finish? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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