Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel of Team Quick Step won Saturday’s Stage 7 of the Tour de France. The victory moved him back into the yellow jersey he wore for one day earlier this week after his win in Stage 2.
As expected, today’s moderately mountainous route didn’t have much of an impact on the overall contenders. Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, and Lance Armstrong all finished together in a 36-man group that rolled across the line 1 minute 47 seconds behind Chavanel. They did move up slightly in the standings, however, as the climbs knocked a few pretenders out of the top 20. Evans is now second overall, 1:25 behind Chavanel, with Schleck fourth at 1:55, Contador sixth at 2:26, and Armstrong 14th at 3:16. (Complete standings here.)
Today’s 102-mile stage from Tournus to the ski resort of Station des Rousses contained six categorized climbs as the Tour flirted with the Alps for the first time this year. None of the climbs were long or steep enough, however, to make this a day for the contenders. They were happy to mark each other in anticipation of tomorrow’s more challenging climbs.
The five-man escape got away almost immediately after the start today. The breakaway contained Chavanel’s Quick Step teammate Jerome Pineau, who was on the hunt for summit points to add to his lead in the polka-dot-jersey competition for best climber. On the penultimate climb of the day, a group containing Chavanel pulled away from the main peloton and started absorbing riders from the Pineau group on the final climb, as the groups fell apart and it became every man for himself.
Chavanel passed Pineau, alone in the lead, about eight miles from the finish and soloed home over the final downhill miles to win by 57 seconds over Spaniard Rafael Valls. Pineau faded badly after a day of chasing points and finished 44th, 3:55 behind his teammate.Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, of Team Saxo Bank, who has worn yellow for all but one day of this year’s Tour, has now said goodbye to the leader’s jersey for good. He finished nearly 15 minutes down on Chavanel and will only fade further as the Tour enters the real mountains.
Sunday’s 117-mile Stage 8 takes in five categorized climbs through the Alps, including two tough Category 1 ascents in the final 20 miles, and concludes with a summit finish. The big guns will come out firing tomorrow as they seize on the chance to take significant time out of each other, especially given that Monday is a rest day.