And on the seventh day, the Tour de France peloton rested.
Friday’s 231km seventh stage from Fougeres to Chartres was the longest of this year’s Tour de France, and the peloton stretched it even longer by transforming the day into a classic transfer stage. Most riders happily waved a white flag and dropped any plans to be aggressive, instead using the day in the saddle to recover from the intense racing of the first week as the Tour de France transferred east from Brittany to the outskirts of Paris and the Val de Loire.
The riders spent 5:43 in the saddle, covering the rolling roads at a low average speed of just 40.326km/h. Breakaway attempts floundered, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) become bored as did most of the 170 riders in the peloton happy to respect orders from their leaders and ride steadily.
Only Yohan Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) tried to rebel. He was allowed to go clear and on the attack alone from the 34km point. He spent 55km out front, establishing an advantage of more than eight minutes — the biggest breakaway lead in this year's Tour — before a brief attack from AG2R La Mondiale in a slight crosswind sparked a moment of echelon racing and brought him to heel. Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Samsic) eventually broke the slumber in the final two hours but was also reeled in before the high-speed sprint ended the slumber and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) took the honours.
The stage was described as soporific – sleep-inducing. It wasn’t great publicity for Grand Tour racing and arguably a waste of full live television coverage. However, a drop in pace and intensity was understandable after six intense days of racing in the Vendee and Brittany, with crashes, high-speed racing and virtually all the team leaders losing time somewhere.
"It was a boring stage," said three-time reigning world champion Sagan in the mixed zone after pulling on his 91st green jersey, caring little about moving past Erik Zabel for the record number of days in the green jersey.
"You're happy when it’s a sunny day. There was no wind and so stress, but it was boring. I ended talking to everyone," Sagan said when asked how he passed the time in the saddle.
Sagan was spotted posing as superman, but even he was unable to make the stage go any quicker. It seemed as if the whole peloton had neared a piece of kryptonite.
Overall leader Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) finished with everyone else in the peloton and so kept the yellow jersey for another day. Race leadership makes him the de facto spokesman and union leader in the race, obliging to him justify the steady riding across northern France.
"It was quite long — 230k, so you have to ask the question: Is this really necessary in a Grand Tour?" van Avermaet said in his press conference, no doubt irritating race organiser ASO as much as the slow ride to Chartres.
"Everyone kind of enjoyed it. It was the first day we could really relax," he added.
Chris Froome, who at the start of the stage had denied being a ‘patron’ of boss of the peloton, agreed with van Avermaet. He and Team Sky seemed happy to have a more relaxed day in the saddle.
“It was steadier, but it was just the nature of the stage,” Froome suggested as he warmed down afterward. “The longest stage in the race, flat, no real crosswinds, so it was always going to be like that. It was nice to turn the legs over."
Saturday’s eighth stage from Dreux to Amiens, north of Pairs, risks being another snoozer as the riders and teams turn their focus and save their energy for Sunday’s blockbuster stage on the Roubaix cobbles.
Every rider is scared of the cobbles and the serious impact they could have this year’s Tour de France, and so nobody will want to enliven Saturday's 181km stage and use valuable energy they might need 24 hours later.
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