Winds, wiles and Wout: 2020 Tour de France stage 7
Just like the winds that had buffeted the seventh stage of the Tour de France, Wout van Aert gusted past a clutch of riders to claim the stretch between Millau and Lavaur in southern France.
Two days after winning the fifth stage in Privas, van Aert’s unlikely surge to glory came after three hours and 32 minutes of derring-do and steely-eyed tactics.
"All the sprinters had been dropped already and afterwards it was totally hectic," said the Jumbo-Visma rider at the finish line. "I got a slipstream, found a gap and timed my sprint perfectly. But this win is more of a surprise than the last one.”
Edvald Boassen Hagen finished in second place and the Frenchman Bryan Coquard was third.
From the outset on Wednesday, 25-year-old van Aert said he felt the terrain between Gap and Privas suited his style of riding.
And as Friday’s instalment rolled out within sight of the 336m-high Millau viaduct, his was not among the names mentioned for glory 168 km down the road from the would-be wonder-of-the-world spanning the Tarn Gorge.
Peter Sagan was among the favourites for the stage and early tour leader Julian Alaphilippe was expected to make a play to recover the 20 seconds he lost for an authorised drinks stop 17km from the end of stage five.
It was Sagan’s Bora team who launched the theatrics. They led an intricately plotted attack to drop his sprint rivals. Only 18km into the stage, they increased the pace and managed to exploit the crosswinds, to split the pack and see off Sagan's rivals in the points classification,
The Irishman Sam Bennett - who started the day in the green jersey - and the Australian Caleb Ewan were blown away. So too Tadej Pogacar. The Slovenian began the stage in third place overall but finished it in 16th - nearly 90 seconds off the pace following a puncture during a break in which the peloton hit speeds of 70 km/h in a crosswind.
Moment in the sun
The pack then split into three groups before the maverick Belgian rider Thomas de Gendt pulled clear.
The 33-year-old proceeded on his own sweet merry way racking up leads of up to half a minute before he was reeled in 35km from the finish line.
The next two days are going to be tough,” said Adam Yates, the overall leader. “Everyone was expecting a fairly calm day before the mountains in the Pyrenees but Bora’s moves changed all that. It was full-on right from the start until the end … that means it’s going to be really hard going up and down those mountains.”
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