Matteo Trentin took his second stage win in successive Tours by mere millimetres ahead of Peter Sagan on stage seven into Nancy.
Cannondale’s pre-stage favourite needed just one more bike length to overhaul the Italian, who won in Lyon last year, however the elusive victory again eluded the Slovakian champion as he ended up with his seventh consecutive top five in this year’s race.
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Sagan meanwhile will perhaps rue his attack over the summit of the second of two short, fast climbs inside the final 20km of the stage that saw the peloton’s pure sprinters distanced from a select group of puncheurs and overall favourites.
Although he managed to escape with Greg Van Avermaet from the 5km mark until the flamme rouge, the ultimately unsuccessful effort took the edge off Sagan’s sprint and again saw him blow a chance for the stage win.
Nor is it quite the result his Cannondale team were looking for after spending most of the second longest stage of this year’s race controlling the race at the front of the peloton.
A number of crashes on the fast and furious conclusion to the stage saw Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) lose 63 seconds and fellow American hopeful Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) suffer a hard fall inside the final 200m as he and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) crossed lines.
While the opening week of this year’s Tour has drawn plaudits for its unorthodox stages in Yorkshire and on the cobbles, stages six and seven have been the classic, edgy flat dashes past the featureless fields of north-east France.
With eight kilometres raced, Alexandre Pichot (Europcar), Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Martin Elmiger (IAM), Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché) took off.
However their escape was seldom allowed more than four minutes as the peloton was marshalled by Cannondale and Astana, who finally reeled in their prey as the two spicy fourth category climbs appeared on the horizon.
The stage wasn’t without its casualties; Dutchmen Stef Clement (Belkin) and hitherto youngest rider in the Tour, Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory) both abandoned following early crashes.
BMC’s key mountain goat Darwin Atapuma also withdrew after coming down behind Van Garderen: a key loss for the Tour hopeful as the race heads to the hills.
2014 Tour de France, stage seven: Epernay to Nancy, 234.5km
1. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep in 5-18-39
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol
4. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano
5. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
6. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing
7. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar
8. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling
9. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin
10. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing all at s.t.
Overall classification after stage seven
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 29-57-04
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 2 secs
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale at 44 secs
4. Michael Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 50 secs
5. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol at 1-45
6. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 1-54
7. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp at 2-05
8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 2-11
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
10. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at s.t.