Lac de Payolle (France) (AFP) – Stephen Cummings extended the Afro-British domination of the Tour de France by winning Friday’s seventh stage in the Pyrenees, but there was a bloody finish when an inflatable arch collapsed.
The 35-year-old’s victory was a fourth in seven stages both for Brits and for the African team Dimension Data, for whom Mark Cavendish had already claimed three of the first six stages in sprint finishes.
“Of all my victories, I think it’s the best one. The Tour is the Tour, it’s special,” said Cummings.
Cummings was part of a 29-man breakaway group before going solo 27km from the end of the 162.5km stage from l’Isle Jourdain to Lac de Payolle.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour champion, launched a counter-attack of three riders but Cummings proved too strong for them and rode away to win his second Tour stage in successive years.
South African Daryl Impey was second with David Navarro of Spain third, both 1min 05sec behind.
“It’s brilliant, it’s fantastic. I wasn’t confident in that group with (climbers) Nibali and Navarro,” added Cummings.
“I cooked myself actually… Then a five to six percent climb like Col d’Aspin is good for my characteristics, so I just carried on and I won.”
It was also a great day for Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet, who was part of the original breakaway and finished fifth to improve his lead in the yellow jersey competition.
He now leads Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe by 6:36 with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde two seconds further back in third.
“I have to try to enjoy every moment, that’s also why I went full gas today: to keep (the yellow jersey) another day,” said Van Avermaet, who admitted he didn’t expect to succeed again on Saturday.
– Bloodied –
There was late drama when an inflatable arch indicating the final kilometre collapsed and knocked young Briton Adam Yates off his bike, leaving him with a bloodied chin.
The collapsed arch also slowed the progress of the peloton containing the favourites, including reigning champion Chris Froome, another Briton, and Colombian climber Nairo Quintana.
The expected fireworks on the first major climb of this year’s Tour, the Col d’Aspin, never materialised, with two more tough Pyrenean stages to come over the weekend.
French hope Thibaut Pinot suffered badly on the climb and lost around 2min 30sec.
An early 12-man breakaway included top sprinters Cavendish and Peter Sagan but they were never allowed more than 40sec on the peloton.
With sprint points up for grabs farther up the road, Germans Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel put their teams to work to bring back their sprint rivals.
No sooner was that group caught, than 29 riders got away 50km into the stage, which had been ridden at breakneck speed to that point.
The big surprise was that amongst them were both the yellow jersey and Nibali.
Froome’s Sky, with some help from Quintana’s Movistar, took up pace-setting in the peloton, mindful that Nibali, while nine minutes back from other favourites, could become a factor if given too much leeway.
When the break crept up to almost six minutes — giving Van Avermaet an 11-minute overall lead on the road — the peloton reacted decisively.
But around 35km from the finish, the lead group started splintering, with four riders going clear at the front and another eight forming a chase group.
Cummings, a former Olympic silver medallist and world champion from the track in the team pursuit, then attacked on his own 27km out while the 11 others — including Van Avermaet and Nibali — formed a chase group behind.
Once the 11 hit the Col d’Aspin, Nibali attacked with only Impey and Navarro keeping his wheel, while in the peloton Pinot’s FDJ team set the pace, a decision he would perhaps later regret.
Even with Nibali and Navarro collaborating, Cummings kept extending his lead and finished a comfortable stage winner.