Like last year, Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) had a slow start to the Tour de France, with only one finish inside the top five across the first six days of the race.
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Now, in another parallel to last year’s Tour, the Dutch sprinter landed his first win of the race on stage seven, edging Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) in a photo finish at the line.
Groenewegen appears to be a slow-starter in three-week races – it took him until the very final day of the 2017 Tour to win his first Grand Tour stage – but when he’s up to full speed he’s difficult to beat.
Despite receiving a long lead-out from Jumbo-Visma, who controlled the final few kilometres with two monster turns at the front from lead-out riders Wout van Aert and Grøndahl Amund Jansen, the Dutchman found himself behind Ewan, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) immediately prior to the sprint.
Nonetheless, he started his sprint early and demonstrated a remarkable turn of speed to pass all of them, and take victory.
The win is the 26-year-old’s fourth at the Tour, and his very impressive Jumbo-Visma team’s third at this year’s race.
Ewan comes even closer
Caleb Ewan is getting closer and closer to his longed-for Tour de France stage victory.
The Lotto-Soudal rider was in the mix during both the stage one and four sprints, where he placed third on both occasions, and improved upon that today with second place behind Groenewegen.
In fact, all that separated Ewan from a first Tour stage victory in his maiden appearance at the race was a mere tyre-width, as it took a photo finish to determine which of the two riders had crossed the line first.
For Ewan, a stage victory is his sole goal at the race. He has not been bothering to contest the intermediate sprints, suggesting that he has no interest in pursuing the green jersey, while there are no GC candidates on his Lotto-Soudal team for him to help support.
With more bunch sprints possible on stages nine, ten and eleven, more chances lie around the corner.
Elia Viviani is found lacking
Elia Viviani appeared to be in the perfect position to land a second successive bunch sprint victory at the Tour de France 2019, but failed to capitalise on good work from his teammates and win the stage.
Taking over from Jumbo-Visma at the front of the peloton, his teammates produced a perfect lead-out, with first Michael Mørkøv then Max Richeze stringing out the peloton and delivering him on the finishing straight.
But when Viviani emerged from the Argentine’s wheel, his legs were surprisingly lacking. He seemed incapable of getting up to full speed, and was swamped by several riders who had opened their sprints early, to ultimately finish sixth.
Did he start his sprint too late? Perhaps, although the manner in which he failed to accelerate suggests that there was a problem with the legs, too.
It’s been an up and down season for the Italian, who bounced back from a barren Giro d’Italia to win at the Tour de Suisse and earlier this week in Nancy. He’ll be hoping he can bounce back again from disappointment on stage seven.
Familiar names in the break
It’s fair to say that this was not a day for the breakaway. A flat parcours made a bunch sprint virtually inevitable, while a headwind made coasting in the peloton a far more desirable option than making the effort required to first get into then sustain a day-long breakaway.
So credit should go to the duo of Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert), who bravely put their nose to the wind in a two-man breakaway.
It was clear from the start of the day how little enthusiasm there was among riders to get up the road. Once Rossetto and Offredo made their moves, the peloton almost immediately sat up, with no other rider attempting to close down or join the duo.
Both riders have already animated this year’s Tour, with Rossetto spending much of the opening stage out front alone, and Offredo having also been part of the day’s break on both stages three and four.
Although all their attempts have come nowhere near to resulting in a stage win (today, they were caught with 12.5Km still to ride), their efforts have not been in vain – the sponsors for their respective teams, Cofidis and Wanty-Gobert, will be grateful for the hours of television exposure.
A great day for Giulio Ciccone
For Giulio Ciccone, it must feel as though all his Christmases have come at once.
Not only did he get to enjoy the rare honour of wearing the most prized jersey in professional cycling, the maillot jaune – during stage six it was also announced that he was to be awarded a new contract extension by his team, Trek-Segafredo.
You can see why Trek-Segafredo were to eager to pin him down. Ciccone has been a bright spark for the team in what has generally been an underwhelming season, contributing two of their total of six wins this year, and producing their best performance by winning the mountains classification at the Giro d’Italia.
That’s some return for a rider who is competing in just his first season for the team – a season that could get better and better should he continue to successfully defend the yellow jersey over the coming days.