Dylan Groenewegen clinched his first stage of this Tour de France in a bunch sprint on the streets of Chartres, attacking around the outside of Peter Sagan and Fernando Gaviria to win by five metres, and he delivered a message to his critics in the process.
The talented Dutch rider timed his move to perfection, powering towards the line with 100m to go to leave his rivals behind and raising a finger to his lips as he crossed the line, a response to those who have doubted his form so far in the Tour.
The general classification contenders like Chris Froome and Richie Porte all finished safely in the bunch, and Greg van Avermaet extended his yellow-jersey lead after earning three bonus seconds during an uneventful day.
This was the longest stage of this year’s Tour, a 231km route across northern France from Fougeres to Chartres, and for most of the day it felt that way. It was largely a pleasant jaunt across northern France, not so much a bike race as a parade. Yoann Offredo and then Laurent Pichon attempted solo breaks but were gently reeled in by a peloton happy to take it easy before tougher challenges ahead.
“Maybe they should just have stages less than 200km in grand tours,” suggested an unimpressed Geraint Thomas afterwards, who remains second in the overall standings. “It would be a bit more exciting for everyone I think.
“There were a few moments where a few teams tried to get away but no one really wanted to do anything. It was over six hours in the saddle but obviously it’s easier than racing full gas. One more day, and then a big day on Sunday,” he said, referring to the treacherous cobbles of stage nine which will not be so forgiving.
With 40km to go the race finally seemed to ignite when Thomas De Gendt and his Lotto-Soudal team injected the charge which swallowed Pichon, but from there the peloton took the chance to take their foot off the gas once more.
It was one of the more curious finishes to a Tour de France stage with no one prepared to test a final breakaway, against the various sprinters’ teams full of fresh legs which would have easily hunted down any break, and so 170 riders floated through Chartres like a cloud. Andre Greipel’s Lotto-Soudal moved on to the right of the road, Gaviria’s Quick-Step Floors took charge of the left, with Mark Cavendish’s Dimension Data on their shoulder, while the GC contenders like Team Sky, BMC and Movistar filed in behind.
Once the GC teams hit the 3km mark and their times were locked in, they stood down and let the sprinters have their moment. The French rider Arnaud Demare moved up to the front but was quickly swarmed by Quick-Step as they dragged Gaviria through to the front. But this time the Colombian was overpowered, and not by the green jersey of Sagan but by the man who won on the Champs-Elysees last year, Groenewegen.
For Cavendish, who has yet to seriously contest a sprint in this opening week, it was another frustrating finish and he looked fed up having struggled to keep pace in the final throes.
“It was choppy, he said of the finish. ”I was just picking wheels, I seemed to be good, but I went to go and Quick-Step and Bora just go to a different level, a different top speed. I ws floating and I felt good, I had a look at my power afterwards and it was quite good, but I didn’t enough.”
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