CHALON-SUR-SAÔNE, France (AFP) – Dutch speed king Dylan Groenewegen edged an ultra-tight bunch sprint on stage seven of the Tour de France on Friday as Italy’s Giulio Ciccone retained the overall race lead.
Groenewegen beat Australia’s Caleb Ewan in a photo-finish to make up for the pain of falling on stage one on the Brussels home straight.
Pure sprinter Groenewegen was left sat on his backside in Brussels when he had been red-hot favourite to win.
He was also left to wonder what might have been as his teammate Mike Teunissen won the opening stage and pulled on the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
“The first day wasn’t what I expected but now I’m back on top,” said the Jumbo-Visma man on the finish line on the banks of the Soane river on a baking afternoon.
Groenewegen was asked if he was the best pure sprinter in the world, but he refused to be drawn.
The 26-year-old is being compared to the great British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who won 30 stages of the Tour de France in his prime.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan retained the sprinters’ points green jersey after finishing third.
“I stayed on Groenewegen’s wheel, but then I switched to Elia Viviani’s, wrong move, they shot past us,” said Sagan.
“These two guys (Groenewegen and Ewan) are much faster than me.”
Defending champion Geraint Thomas, who beat all his key rivals the day before, and his Ineos co-captain Egan Bernal finished safely in the pack.
“It was reassuring to see Geraint Thomas at this level,” said Ineos Sports Director Nicolas Portal, describing the Welshman’s performance as “morale boosting”.
“Yesterday was a kind of weird mountain stage and I’m just glad to be in front of everyone (the title contenders),” Thomas said at the start of Friday’s stage in the fortified town of Belfort.
On the longest stage of the Tour at 230km, the riders involved in the summit showdown the day before were mainly in relaxed mood.
“I’m looking forward to a quiet couple of stages now, we’re all really calm after a good day yesterday,” said 22-year-old Bernal.