By Owen Rogers
Bringing his team their second win in two stages, Team Sky's Ian Stannard won stage seven of the 2018 Tour of Britain on Saturday. His face stained with the game of a long wet day in the saddle, the 31-year-old crossed the line 59 seconds ahead of fellow escapee Nils Politt.
The pair were the last remaining from a five man escape group when Stannard attacked the German with 16km of the 215.6km stage remaining, setting up and enthralling game of cat and mouse as they approached the line in Mansfield.
With the Brit just ahead, the Katusha-Alpecin rider's deficit remained under 10 seconds for the following 10km, however Stannard's relentless strength soon told as the pair ground through the outskirts of the Nottinghamshire town.
Behind, Giovanni Carbone (Bardiani-CSF) rode alone to third place, while further back Briton Mark McNally (Wanty-Groupe Gober), the last of the breakaway, crossed the line just ahead of the peloton for fourth place.
After his Quick-Step team did much of the work on the front of the bunch, Julian Alaphilippe crossed the line in 19th place with the rest of the peloton, easily able to retain his overall race lead. Indeed, there was no change in the overall top-10.
The win is Stannard's first since he took a stage at the Herald Sun Tour at the beginning of last year, and redolent of his previous victory at the race in 2016, which he also won solo.
How it happened
At 215.6km, Saturday’s seventh stage between West Bridgford and Mansfield was the longest of the eight days. And though a 12km neutralised section added to the days travails, nothing other than a bunch sprint was expected.
Though the opening kilometre brought little more than nervous looks, combat was soon joined, the pace lifting, bringing a series of attacks which punctuated what was a frantic opening.
Among the most aggressive in the opening kilometres were Katusha-Alpecin, with repeated digs from both Mads Würtz Schmidt and Politt, and Sylvain Chavanel, the Direct Energie man riding his final season as a professional.
The 39-year-old was one of a group of around 20 riders who escaped the bunch after 15km, though the presence of Patrick Bevin (BMC) and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) - fourth and fifth overall respectively - caused alarm in the chasing bunch.
Race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) was part of another large group who got away over the top of the first classified climb at Keyworth, after 21km, but it was only after a further five kilometres the race finally settled.
Stannard led the way, escaping with Politt, though the pair soon sat up to wait for three chasers. With 33km ridden, they were joined by Carbone and British duo Alex Paton (Canyon-Eisberg) and McNally, and set about building a lead.
At nearly nine minutes down, Carbone was the best placed rider in the break, and they were allowed their heads, their advantage reaching 7-20 with 134km left to ride through the dank Nottinghamshire countryside.
Paton hoovered up the available sprint points, the Canyon-Eisberg rider moving into the classification’s virtual lead, before being the first to drop back, possibly conserving energy to defend the red jersey in Sunday's final stage.
Behind, Quick-Step had been joined on the front by both Mitchelton-Scott and Sunweb, and though the gap was significantly reduced, by the time the leading quartet entered the closing 30km, their advantage remained over four minutes and the break was set for success.
It was a further eight kilometres later that Stannard made the first of a series of attacks, dropping Carbone and McNally setting up the tense final.
Traditionally a day for the sprinters, tomorrow’s 77km final stage in London will provide little opportunity for major changes at the top of the general classification.
OVO Energy Tour of Britain, Stage seven: West Bridgford - Mansfield (215.6km)
1. Ian Stannard (Gbr) Team Sky, in 4-56-27
2. Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha Alpecin, at 59 seconds
3. Giovanni Carbone (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, at 3-09
4. Mark McNally (Gbr) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, at 3-54
5. Emils Liepins (Aut) One Pro Cycling, at 4-04
6. Patrick Bevin (Aus) BMC Racing
7. Ethan Hayter (Gbr) Team GB
8. Paolo Simion (Ita) Bardiani-CSF
9. Andy Tennant (Gbr) Canyon-Eisberg
10. Nils Eekhoff (Ned) Sunweb, all at same time
General classification after stage seven
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 24-47-25
2. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 17 seconds
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 33 seconds
4. Patrick Bevin (Aus) BMC Racing, at 46 seconds
5. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, at 51 seconds
6. Jascha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar, at 58 seconds
7. Nielson Powless (USA) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-10
8. Dmitri Strakhov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-24
9. Chris Hamilton (Aus) Sunweb, at 1-28
10. Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned), at 1-35
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