CHALON-SUR-SAONE, France — Less than a week ago in Brussels, Dylan Groenewegen sat dejected in the middle of a road, his body language oozing disappointment as he was attended by the Tour de France doctor.
One of the fastest sprinters in the world with one of the most powerful teams, the Dutch sprinter was expected to win the opening stage and seize the yellow jersey. Instead, he was caught in a crash and forced to watch his lead out man at Jumbo-Visma, Mike Teunissen, claim all the honours.
To add to his torment, Teunissen and Groenewegen are roomates on the Tour, meaning he had to spend the night with the yellow jersey in his room.
Banged up and demoralized, Groenewegen took a few days to recover, well beaten in the sprints that followed. He finally put his poor Tour start to bed with the tightest of wins in the longest stage on Friday.
“It was not the start I wanted,” Groenewegen candidly said after pointing a finger in celebration as he crossed the line. “Over the last days, I focused on today. My team did a really good job. The tactics was to go full gas, and I took the win.”
Groenewegen edged Australian rival Caleb Ewan and former world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia to claim his fourth career stage win of the Tour.
After a final technical hairpin bend, the 230-kilometre stage featured a 1.6-kilometre path to the finish that gave pure sprinters a perfect opportunity to shine. Italian sprinter Elia Viviani was led out by his teammates but lacked speed and dropped out of contention. It was then a tight battle between Groenewegen and Ewan, with the former averaging 74.1 kph to win by just a few centimetres.
Before that intense finale, riders used Stage 7 to recover from the brutal ride on Thursday, and it made for painfully boring viewing.
“A long slow day on the saddle,” defending champion Geraint Thomas said. “Everything was starting to ache by the end, your wrists and your feet and stuff.”
There was no significant movement in the overall standings. Tour rookie Giulio Ciccone kept the yellow jersey with a six-second lead over Julian Alaphilippe. Among the favourites, Thomas remained the best placed rider, just 49 seconds off the pace.
Ottawa’s Michael Woods remained in ninth place overall after finishing 27th in Friday’s stage. Hugo Houle of Sainte-Perpetue, Que., moved up five spots to 108th overall after finishing 55th in Stage 7.
Squeezed between the crossing of the Vosges and Massif Central mountains, the stage took the peloton from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone in central-east France. After a day of hardship in the Vosges that culminated with the brutal ascent to the Planches des Belles Filles, the peloton rode at a pedestrian pace and nobody moved in the outskirts of Belfort when breakaway specialists Yoann Offredo and Stephane Rossetto made a move.
Offredo and Rossetto could not make the most of the peloton’s apathy. They were reined in about 12 kilometres from the finish.
On the Tour’s longest day, some riders were caught napping. American Tejay Van Garderen and Teunissen both hit the tarmac soon after the start, close to a road divider. Van Garderen was attended by three of his teammates and eventually got back on his bike, his face bloodied and his jersey ripped. Nicolas Roche soldiered on, too, after he fell onto his machine on a long section of flat road.
Van Garderen was to have X-rays. His team will decide on Saturday whether he’s fit to continue.
“His main complaint right now is the thumb,” team doctor Kevin Sprouse said. “He’s got some bruising and swelling and just a lot of pain gripping, He may need a stich or two in the chin.”