Sylvain Chavanel reclaimed the race leader’s yellow jersey with victory on stage seven of the Tour de France today.
France’s Chavanel (QuickStep) won his second stage of the 97th Tour on the 165.5-kilometre route from Tournus to Station des Rousses.
Fabian Cancellara’s capitulation in the mid-mountains handed the maillot jaune away and Chavanel was the man to benefit after attacking at the foot of the day’s final climb, the 14km-long second category Lamoura.
Rafael Valls Ferri (Footon-Servetto) was second, 57 seconds behind, with Rabobank’s Juan Manuel Garate third, 30 seconds further adrift.
With the finish coming at the end of a plateau, none of the general classification contenders deemed an attack worthwhile, meaning Tour favourite and two-time winner Alberto Contador (Astana), seven-time winner Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) were among those content to take a watchful approach at the front of the peloton.
Tomorrow’s 189km eighth stage from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz is sure to be where the race for the yellow jersey explodes for the first time.
The day began with Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank) in possession of the yellow jersey after a topsy-turvy opening seven days of racing.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was 20 seconds behind in second, while the leading rider among the favourites for a podium position in Paris was world champion Evans in third, 39 seconds adrift at the start of the day.
The stage offered a slim opportunity for the general classification contenders to gain time, but tomorrow’s stage to Morzine-Avoriaz will provide a better chance.
With the first rest day following on Monday, the opening Alpine stage offers an opportunity to attack, although the race will surely be won in the Pyrenees in 10 days’ time.
Today’s first mid-mountains stage, through the Jura mountains north of the Alps and to the French-Swiss ski resort of Station des Rousses, featured six climbs.
Christian Knees (Milram), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Jerome Pineau (QuickStep), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) escaped early on and established a lead of eight minutes at one point, but the peloton cut the deficit as the day developed and riders bridged the gap.
Mark Cavendish, the winner of stages five and six, was dropped on the fourth climb of the day, the first of three successive second category climbs.
Cavendish was joined by his faithful team-mate Bernhard Eisel, who was to nurse the Briton to finish within the time limit, and then another HTC-Columbia rider, Mark Renshaw.
But the main action was taking place further up the road on the 15.7km Col de la Croix de la Serra.
The escapees were reeled in by a number of pursuers, but the peloton remained in contact.
Still more riders were dropped on the penultimate climb – including Cancellara, pushing Thomas into the yellow jersey on the road.
The Swiss ace tried to hang on, but the maillot jaune was sure to be taken off his back by the day’s end.
Chavanel attacked, assuming the on-the-road race lead, having begun the day 41 seconds behind Thomas.
His team-mate Jerome Pineau, wearing the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey, forged on alone at the head of the race.
Pineau held an 18-second lead over his compatriot and team-mate with 15km to go and at the foot of the day’s final climb, the 14km ascent of Lamoura.
Chavanel, the winner of stage two from Brussels to Spa, overtook Pineau with 14km remaining, while the overall contenders continued to look over their shoulders at the front of the peloton, with Contador shadowing Armstrong.
Thomas’ yellow jersey hopes ended a third of the way up the Lamoura, as he was dropped by the main bunch.
But Chavanel’s performance made Thomas’ maillot jaune bid redundant.
The Frenchman, buoyed by the support of a partisan road-side crowd, celebrated his second win of the 2010 Tour and the third Tour stage win of his career.