Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) won the bunch sprint at the end of stage seven of the 2017 Tour of Britain on Saturday, with team-mate Lars Boom retaining the overall race lead despite numerous attacks on the hilly stage.
Groenewegn managed to fend off a late acceleration by Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) to take the win, with Brenton Jones (JLT Condor) coming home for third.
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Race leader Boom finished safely in the bunch after he and LottoNL-Jumbo worked hard to neutralise attacks in the Cotswold hills. The Dutchman leads Stefan Küng (BMC) by eight seconds overall, with Victor Campenaerts (LottoNL-Jumbo) in third at nine seconds with one stage to go.
How it happened
Clear skies greeted the riders in Hemel Hempstead for the start of a hilly and testing stage to Cheltenham. The stage represented a decent opportunity for the escape group to survive to the finish, with the second half of the route packed with hills.
There were several unsuccessful attempts to escape the peloton after a fast start, with Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and various members of Cannondale-Drapac all having a go.
It wasn’t until Dexter Gardias (Bike Channel-Canyon) launched a move did it stick. He was initially joined by Steele von Hoff (One Pro Cycling) and Robert Power (Orica-Scott), with Jacob Scott (An Post), Lukasz Owsian (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) and Russell Downing (JLT Condor) bridging over to join them later.
As the race headed into Oxfordshire and over the first KOM climb of Brill Hill, the break had pushed their advantage out to the four-and-a-half-minute mark. Crowds packed the picturesque spot complete with its landmark windmill.
Continuing the route west into the Cotswolds, the break were working well together and maintaining a four-minute advantage over the bunch with 80km to go. The weather had also taken a turn, with a rainstorm dampening the roads.
Tiago Machado (Katusha Alpecin) evidently decided he could join the six riders up front, and attacked from the LottoNL-Jumbo controlled peloton. The Portuguese rider stooped low on his bike in an attempt to time trial his way to the break up ahead and improve his 1-20 deficit on race leader Boom overall.
Perhaps hearing news that Machado was making good headway in catching the break, a five-rider group attacked out of the bunch featuring very strong riders: Dowsett, Kwiatkowski, Ryan Mullen (Cannondale-Drapac), Reto Hollenstein (Katusha-Alpecin) and Silvan Dillier (BMC).
Kwiatkowski started the day just 19 seconds down on Boom, and posed the biggest danger to the Dutchman’s lead.
With so much attacking going on and the break starting to tire, their lead was chipped away to just over 1-30 inside 45km as they tackled the second KOM at Bourton-on-the-Hill. The chasers worked hard up the climb, and they soon caught up with Machado but the pace was too much for Dowsett, who dropped back.
LottoNL-Jumbo continued riding hard at the front of the bunch, with Victor Campenaerts putting in a huge turn. Their efforts whittled down the advantage of the two groups of riders out front and the race came back together with 36km to go.
Immediately, time trial world champion Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) attacked solo as the rain started to pour down again. Although Martin didn’t create much of a gap, he managed to maintain his advantage to around 20 seconds into the final 20km on slick, wet roads.
Team Sky took over from LottoNL-Jumbo at the front of the bunch in the chase to catch Martin, who was caught before the intermediate sprint and the valuable bonus seconds on offer with 12km to go.
There followed an almost relentless series of attacks, with Boom policing as many as he could into the final KOM of Cleeve Hill but he let slip a group of five containing Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data). Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac) crashed, holding up another rider leaving three in front: Boasson Hagen, Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar) and Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) with 3.5km to go.
With the sprinters’ teams winding up the pace into the final kilometre, the three riders were caught bringing it back together for a bunch sprint.
Despite working for team-mate Boom, Groenewegen won the drag race into the finish in Cheltenham with three-stage winner Ewan just running out of metres as the accelerated to the line for a close second.
The 2017 OVO Energy Tour of Britain concludes on Sunday with the final stage from Worcester to Cardiff covering 180km. Three categorised climbs are featured on the route, with the final one at Celtic Manor positioned relatively close to the finish, and could provide a launchpad for a late attack.
OVO Energy Tour of Britain 2017, stage seven: Hemel Hempstead to Cheltenham, 186km
1. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, in 4-26-58
2. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica-Scott
3. Brenton Jones (Aus) JLT Condor
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin
5. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
6. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Movistar
7. Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors
8. Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
9. Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing
10. Vincenzo Albanese (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, all same time
General classification after stage seven
1. Lars Boom (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo, in 26-37-28
2. Stefan Küng (Sui) BMC Racing, at 8 secs
3. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 9 secs
4. Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky, at 10 secs
5. Jos van Emden (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 14 secs
6. Tony Martin (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin, at 15 secs
7. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 20 secs
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data, at 20 secs
9. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 20 secs
10. Ryan Mullen (Irl) Cannondale-Drapac, at 28 secs