An all-star break panicked BMC and the peloton into a game of cat and mouse for most of the day, until the slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles were in the peloton’s sights. Then, it was truly game on.
The most loved cyclist in France, Thomas Voeckler, opened the break of the day right from the gun. A group of 7 followed him, and it was an elite group of riders. Jan Bakelants, Mickael Delage, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Philippe Gilbert, Thomas de Gendt, Dylan Van Baarle and Pierre-Luc Perichon all followed Voeckler’s attack and quickly took a lead of 3’30”. Tsgabu Grmay attacked shortly after the break was formed, and got within 90” of the break before giving up and falling back into the peloton.
The pace in the early part of the day was high. BMC not content with the quality of the breakaway quickly got men to the front and started chasing the break down. This led to 47.8km being covered in the first hour, and the breaks lead never extending much over 3’00” for the rest of the day. As the sprint point in Faucogney was approaching, the break set themselves up to sprint out for the points. Thomas de Gendt started his sprint early from the front, and almost took the points, but a fast finishing Boasson Hagen saw him beat Gilbert and De Gendt by around a bike length. Back in the peloton, Matthews took the best of the rest in a powerful sprint ahead of Kittel.
Straight after Faucogney, the breakaway tackled the Cote d’Esmoulieres. Almost instantly, Mickael Delage was dropped from the front group, leaving 7 up the road. Thomas de Gendt was dropped later on the climb, after Jan Bakelants surged to take the 2 points on top of the Cat 3 climb. As the breaks lead kept droping, Perichon attempted to re-organise the breakaway. Gilbert, also worried about the lifespan of the break, attack on the climb prior to La Planche des Belles Filles. This exploded the breakaway, with Bakelants being the only rider able to bridge.
As the peloton and break started La Planche des Belles Filles, Bakelants and Gilbert had around a 40” lead. Quickstep, even with a rider up the road, upped the pace to protect Dan Martin, while BMC had started falling off after their job of protecting Porte was done. As the climb began, the peloton whittled down. Lilian Calmejane tried a small attack with 5km to go, but fell back in after a strong Sky tempo was set. At 4km to go, the break of Gilbert and Bakelants was caught.
As the Sky pace continued to increase, the casualties increased. Tony Gallopin, injured earlier in the week, lost contact early on the climb, as well as Pierre Rolland. Mikel Landa was the first Team Sky casualty, with Mollema also dropping after working for Contador. With about 2.5km to go, there was only a select group of riders at the front for the stage win. Fabio Aru launched the first attack from midway in the bunch with 2.4km to go, and quickly opened up a 15” gap. Simon Yates increased the tempo with 2km to close the gap, with Geraint Thomas quickly following. Fabio Aru’s gap only increased as the slopes became steeper, opening a 20” gap with 1.7km to go.
It was at this point Froome attacked. Porte, Bardet and Martin were able to follow as Contador, Yates and Quintana were quickly dropped. As the Flamme Rouge approached, the Froome group sat up and played cat and mouse for attacks. Richie Porte was the first to attack with around 700m to go, but was quickly caught by Dan Martin and passed. However, none of these attacks were able to close down the Italian up front, and Fabio Aru took a great solo victory on the first mountain top finish. He also claimed the King of the Mountains jersey, while Dan Martin and Chris Froome took the minor placings.
The Yellow Jersey has now finally changed hands, and it’s on the shoulders of the man who has won it 3 times previously. Chris Froome is now in Yellow, 14” ahead of Aru. The big loser of the day was Nairo Quintana, who will now have two flat stages to rethink strategy before the next hilly day on Stage 8. Looking forward to tomorrow, it’s a flat stage from Vesoul to Troyes, with only two small Cat 4 climbs to trouble the sprints onto the pan flat finish. It’s one of the few remaining sprint stages before the harder mountains start, so expect the sprinters to really go for it.