Peter Sagan is accumulating a fine collection of second place finishes at Le Tour de France, fourteen to be precise, but it is likely he would exchange them all for another stage victory right now. Many will consider this to be the last real chance for the pure sprinters, possibly until the final week of this grand tour. No doubt this pressure to make the most of their limited chances shall intensify the race for glory yet further still; especially after Zdeněk Štybar’s surprise on the previous day’s stage marked for the quick men. The big story in the aftermath was the maillot jaune claiming another victim to follow in the footsteps of Fabian Cancellara, where a hard fall straight onto the road resulted in a compound fracture of the collarbone for Tony Martin. As a result, Chris Froome shall once again reclaim the leader’s jersey, though not in a fashion which he would have ever wished to have done so.
From the start town of Livarot, the peloton will be tasked with meandering their way through Normandie and into Brittany via some gently rolling terrain which will motivate a breakaway, but should conclude with a sprint finish in Fougères at the end of the day. A total of 190.5km is the order of the day, the much flatter terrain encompassing one solitary categorised climb ( Cat 4 Côte de Canapville, 1.9km & avg 4.7%) within the first 12km of riding. Whatever sized breakaway does form, shall be kept under close watch, as no team wishes to slip up on a rare occasion afforded to the sprinters present at this year’s edition of Le Tour. The intermediate sprint at 65.5km is bound to be hotly contested if a break has not already rolled through and swept up all the points, but with the finale set for a frenzied bunch kick, some favourites may well take it easy. Ensuring freshness to win the collector’s item of a sprint stage, before then heading into survival mode in anticipation of the oncoming mountains.
Despite the absence of any significant elevation during Stage 7, there is still a significant decline in altitude as the peloton increases the pressure 15km from home. Fighting shall be rife at the front of the bunch, as those with leadout trains begin to marshall their ranks around general classification riders attempting to stay out of trouble before they cross into the neutralised zone. Elbows out and a bit of argy-bargy will increase anxieties as they thunder below the 5km marker, streaming through a roundabout another kilometre later. Two more follow in quick succession, then they will turn right with 800m to go and negotiate the final easy bend which exists onto the 600m finishing straight.
The final has two key attributes which all of those wishing to target today’s stage win will have analysed closely in order to create the perfect plan. Firstly, the conclusion is particularly narrow during the finishing straight, a six meter wide road means that those with organised trains and innate positioning skills should guarantee a good placing late on. Secondly, the last 600m are set at a gradient of around 2% – 3% right the way to the finishing line, possibly limiting the duration of peak speed for some and making the chances of a late acceleration more likely to benefit in pursuit of the win.
Lotto-Soudal might consist of a fair amount of walking wounded right now, but that did not stop them from winning Stage 5 and the same outcome could be repeated by André Greipel here. The German sprinter is demonstrating incredible form and consistency in 2015, fighting for the intermediate sprints while still getting up comfortably to win two stages so far. His biggest concern for today’s stage will be the narrow conclusion and his depleted leadout train; one which has now been tinkered with and could stutter in the most testing finale so far for his squad. Lotto-Soudal have to make sure that their main man is not boxed in late on, as with such a narrow road, he has little chance of getting around someone and still hitting the front to contest the win. Opinions are rather mixed when it comes to Grépiel’s ability to hold the wheel of his last man and he has been seen to be outmuscled in such finales, possibly wishing to avoid a high speed crash. Regardless, he adapts well to situations such this and if he has to switch to the wheel of a rival such as Mark Cavendish, then he comes right into contention once again.
The Manxman Mark Cavendish has usually picked up at least one victory by this point of most editions of Le Tour de France and is currently winless through a mixture of poor tactics and simply being bettered by faster finishing riders. Today offers him the best chance yet with an easy day which will be concluded upon a tight finish that should allow his organised leadout train to boss the run into home. If all goes well, we could see what many would consider a vintage display from Cavendish and his team here, but question marks still hang heavy above him. His usual faultless partnership with Mark Renshaw has not been at its best so far and there is still the question as how well he will cope with the marginal incline to the line. If everything ‘clicks’ at last for Cavendish, he could finally be walking away with his much desired victory.
Peter Sagan usually catches the eye for his ability to roll in around 3rd to 5th on most sprint stages of Le Tour, but this year has been a different story having demonstrated a new found turn of blistering pace to rival the fastest. The Slovak rider possibly should have won Stage 5, but mistimed his late burst to André Greipel by all of two meters or so, a move which the German later confirmed he was totally unaware of in the finale. With seemingly zero team support from Tinkoff-Saxo in these sprints, Sagan’s imperative will be to place himself neatly onto the wheel of either Greipel or Mark Cavendish ahead of the kick to the line. If he achieves this, then he becomes a significant danger to everyone else, especially when factoring in the 2% – 3% drag over the final 600m.
Such characters of the run to the line could favour John Degenkolb equally, the German sprinter often performing well when placed within races finishing on an incline. His team Giant-Alpecin are an organised bunch which can only be bettered by Etixx-Quickstep right now, given the injuries which have swept through Lotto-Soudal’s squad in the opening week. This should ensure Degenkolb is placed well with 600m remaining, though his leadout is not quite the same as the one which usually delivers him to victory. Nobody would question whether or not he has the speed and power to overcome his rivals, but a reputation for losing the wheel or getting boxed in on similarly tight finishes, does not help his case.
The Norwegian Alexander Kristoff has been dogged by misfortunate and bad luck during this first week of Le Tour, making him a difficult man to forecast on Stage 7. If team Katusha decide to support him fully here, they have the resources to place Kristoff very well ahead of the sprint indeed, a mixture of speed and strength able to battle the likes of Etixx-QuickStep for space on this narrow finishing straight. The uphill gradient adds further hope to his cause and, while not in the same dominant form of this Spring, he still has what it takes to compete for the win. If his fortunes change for the better and he turns onto the last 600m in the first five riders or so, Alexander Kristoff might just well blow everyone else away in Fougères.
Bryan Coquard has a fantastic turn of pace and is no stranger to winning upon these drags up to the line, his recent performance at Route du Sud proving exactly that. His support is limited, which means there is a strong chance that he will become swamped by those with organised trains on this finale, though he is not one to shrink from a fight. If he finds a safe passage through the maelstrom and executes a late surge to the line, Coquard has the speed to steal a march on everyone else here.
MTN-Qhubeka are probably still basking in the glory of securing the first ever maillot à pois rouges to be worn by an African rider, but they might still strike further success on Stage 7. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Tyler Farrar offer two possible options here, though which will be designated the protected rider is uncertain right now. The former is clearly in good condition and would suit this uphill conclusion, despite probably being more likely to perform on a tougher finish still. His American teammate on the other hand is yet to have a shot at a stage win, so could well be handed the opportunity to shine in Fougères.
Finally, Davide Cimolai has handed in two top ten performances so far at this year’s Tour de France and has the potential to go even better on a finish which provides him with a slight drag to strut his stuff. The Italian has a penchant for uphill finales and will not be overly deterred by the lack of support from Lampre-Merida in the final kilometres. Should he manage to surf the wheels of rivals well enough, a top five placing should be considered well within his grasp judging by recent showings; if not more.
Stage 7 might be the closest finish so far for the sprinters, pitting those who ride solo in the finale against rivals who possess much larger leadout trains. Given the course’s attributes, Peter Sagan could be the hardest man to beat for the win, his ability to sprint uphill and current turn of pace an extremely threatening combination. Though Sagan would clearly benefit from a leadout of sorts, he has survived for a long time on little support and is no stranger to finding his own way to the front. In regards to the best team during the last 10km or so, Etixx-QuickStep have the potential to stifle the opposition with a stranglehold upon the front of the peloton; delivering Mark Cavendish into a position which he is sure to convert into a stage win at last. André Greipel is obviously strong right now and will clearly be in the mix as ever, but the importance of a confident leadout and the uncertainty surrounding his ability to follow wheels, could dent his chances somewhat. Two men worth keeping in mind on such a drag a to the line are Bryan Coquard, who comes here off the back of similar wins at Route du Sud and Davide Cimolai with his growing penchant for such finales.
1st Peter Sagan 2nd Mark Cavendish 3rd André Greipel