For the first time at this year’s Tour de France, André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) found himself having to settle for second place after he was bested Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) in the bunch sprint to Fougères. Greipel has been far and away the strongest sprinter thus far but the German had to admit that he got it wrong.
"I died too early. The timing of Cav was better than me," Greipel said after the stage.
When the bunch split with just over a kilometre remaining Greipel - who lost one of his key lead-out men in Greg Henderson today due to injury – found himself isolated. The team regrouped, putting Greipel onto the back of the Katusha train and the Lotto Soudal rider kicked off the sprint as they approached the final corner. However, Cavendish was able to come up the inside and pip him on the line.
"The team was again superb and Sieberg guided me perfectly into the last two kilometres. The sprint was initially ok, but in the end it was steeper than I thought,” said Greipel. "So, I was a little dead and Cav was able to go over me. His timing was better, period. I have to be satisfied with second place."
Fortunately for Greipel, he was able to hold off the late charge of Peter Sagan to keep hold of the green jersey. After failing to take a point on stage 6, and with Sagan taking back another point in the intermediate sprint, the gap between the two at the top of the standings was a slim two points. Had Sagan beaten him on the line, Greipel would have had to relinquish the jersey but he goes into the weekend marginally more comfortable 13 point lead.
When Greipel came into the Tour de France he was adamant that he would not target the points classification, but after winning the sprint on day two the German has been very active in the intermediate sprints and he’s fighting hard to keep it.
“It’s not easy every day to start over again to grab some points but yeah I’m of course thankful that we all tried to go for this goal, and after today I still have it on my shoulders and I’m quite proud of it,” said Greipel.
The chances for the sprinters, certainly ones with Greipel’s physiology, are likely to be up until late next week and he will have to continue to tough it out in the intermediate sprints if he wants to stay in the lead. The next opportunity for the pure sprinters is likely to be stage 15 to Valence but that comes with the challenging second category Col de l’Escrinet.