Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin and Tony Martin came into the spotlight in the first mountain stage of the race.
On the seventh day of the Grande Boucle (L' Isle-Jourdain – Lac de Payolle, 162.5 kilometers), half of the peloton went in the breakaway. Or at least this is how things looked in the first kilometers right after the start, when dozens of riders were determined to make it into the escape, especially as the stage – first spent by the bunch in the Pyrenees – was touted to belong to a break. After this fast and furious start, 29 riders booked a place in the front group, among them being also Tony Martin; riding the Tour de France for the 8th time and winner of five stages at the previous participations, the three-time ITT World Champion brought his fair share of work which helped the group gain more than five minutes on the chasers.
After the first of the two categorized climbs on the route, several riders ignited a move out of the break and took a handful of seconds on the other men, all this while Movistar and Team Sky were leading the pack. Inside the final 30 kilometers, Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) and got a gap which allowed him to arrive solo at the foot of Col d'Aspin (12 kilometers at 6.5%). From that point, the Brit continued to extend his gap on the chasers and topped the climb, before continuing to push on the fast descent to Lac de Payolle, which was a host town in the Tour de France for the first time in history.
On Aspin, Tony Martin – who was reeled in by the peloton – set the pace for two kilometers, helping teammates Julian Alaphilippe and Daniel Martin. In the last kilometer of the ascent, both Etixx – Quick-Step riders tried their hand, first the 24-year-old, followed shortly by Dan. As the peloton intensified the pace, they didn't get too much space, and it was only on the descent that a rider (Adam Yates – Orica-BikeExchange) managed to break clear.
At the front, Cummings took the win more than a minute ahead of Daryl Impey (Orica-BikeExchange) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), while Yates crashed just as he was cruising in the final kilometer, as a result of the inflatable arch falling all of the sudden. The peloton had to hit the brakes and wait until the road was cleared, but didn't lose any time on the first three, as the organizers decided to take the time of the riders at the 3-km to go mark.
Of the five Tour de France stages Tony Martin won in the past, two came in road stages, the German proving each time he has the craftiness and the sheer power necessary to make it all the way to the finish line. That's why he went up the road on Friday, and even though the result wasn't the one he had in mind, Tony was still pleased with this display: "The start of the stage was really crazy. Cavendish and Sagan tried to be part of the breakaway and their presence there was dangerous for the points jersey classification, so we chased to bring them back. Then, other riders had a go and I jumped immediately. I was hoping to fight for the win, but just before the Aspin the escapees began gambling and I missed the move. When I saw that, I decided to wait for the pack, so I can help Dan and Julian. At the end of the day, I'm satisfied with my condition and with the fact I gave it my best in the break."
Julian Alaphilippe and Dan Martin arrived with the peloton, but the young Frenchman had to let go of the white jersey he was wearing since last Sunday, as Adam Yeats, who was at the front on the downhill, before the gauntry incident, had a 7-second advantage when the clock was freezed by the race commissaires. As consequence, Julian conceded the jersey for just one second – but only after climbing one more time to the podium after the finish – even though with one kilometer to go the peloton was closing in on Yates.
For Dan, who's sitting in 10th in the general classification, Friday was a day during which he got to test his condition before the big stages which are looming on the horizon: "The guys did a great job, chasing after the dangerous riders in the first break, and then keeping me out of the wind and always in a good position. The team spirit is really fantastic here and you could see that again today. We tried to make a gap on the climb in the final kilometer, but it was hard, because Sky put everybody in the red. I didn't made it today, but the sensations are good for the next stages."
Also Julian Alaphilippe, who lost the white jersey and dropped one place in the GC, shared his thoughts on stage 7, which concluded the first third of the race: "I'm sad to get this news after the stage, but I was aware this will happen sooner or later. The circumstances were unusual, but there's nothing I can do about it."
I am happy for wearing the jersey for five days, which I see as a great performance for my first Tour de France, and also for paying one more visit to the podium.
"So far, the race has been a great journey and a fantastic experience for me, people began to know me better and to cheer for me during the race, while I got to learn the trade in the Grand Tour peloton. Now I will take things day by day, and although it will be difficult in the high mountains, I will do my best and help Dan Martin there", said Julian, who is third overall after the first seven stages of the event, making him the best placed French rider in the race.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele