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Tour de France 2019: Stage 7

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Good morning. The dust has just about settled on the gravel tracks at the very top of La Planche des Belles Filles, where the overall contenders were drawn out for the first time. On we go, with a long stage that takes us away from the Vosges and towards the Massif Central. But this is a respite in the climbing - just a couple of minor hills today but this has bunch sprint written all over it. 

Here's the parcours. There's some undulation in the first half but the second half is flat. It's 230km long, and it looks like there's a headwind. It could be a long old day...

This is the scene in Belfort. The riders are signing up and will be lining up to roll out in around 10 minutes. A rather long neutral zone today so the race proper is set to be waved underway at 11.35 local time. 

Before we get going, time to catch up on yesterday's action, and there were plenty of developments...

We're still in Thibaut Pinot territory. Whisper it, the Frenchman is looking very good so far. 

The riders are rolling. In 15 minutes or so they'll be racing. 

Chalon-sur-Saône has only been used a few times by the Tour, but it has a habit of throwing up a solo winner. Sixty years ago, Britain's Brian Robinson finished 20 minutes ahead of the pack there. In 1988, Frenchman Thierry Marie stole away from the peloton with a kilometre remaining. Could we be in for an upset today? 

This is how the top of the GC looks as we head towards the start of the stage

Here are the so-called 'maillots distinctifs' today

Trek-Segafredo lead the teams classification, so they're wearing yellow helmets today. Ciccone is the maillot jaune but Richie Porte is still team leader, and here he is. 

And here's Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who is the favourite for the win today after his victory on stage 4. You feel Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and maybe even Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) could match him for pace, but the Italian has the strongest lead-out and if they get it right again today he'll be hard to beat. 

We're off!

Cofidis and Wanty immediately fire a representative apiece up the road. Looks like that's it. No one else? No one?

It's Stéphane Rossetto for Cofidis and Yoann Offredo for Wanty. Rossetto was away first and waits up to allow Offredo to join him. There is absolutely zero worry about being caught - the peloton are crawling. 

Rossetto and Offredo are going to get to know each other pretty well today. 

The duo are riding steadily at the moment - there's no real rush to build a lead. Back in the peloton everyone's just chatting away. I'd be able to keep up.

I'm calling it now, this is going to be the worst stage of the whole Tour. 

Hang on. Even at this sedate pace, we have a crash, and half of the EF team are involved. Tejay van Garderen is on the deck. 

Van Garderen has blood on his cheek and chin - it looks like he hit the tarmac with the left-hand side of his face. There's a cut to the knee as well. He gingerly drags himself up and carries on, but doesn't look comfortable. 

The rest of the EF riders were unscathed, and it doesn't look like Uran was involved at all. 

Van Garderen looks really banged up and his jersey is ripped badly. He's a minute and a half behind the peloton, who aren't going quickly at all. 

Simon Clarke and Tom Scully drop back to help Van Garderen back to the bunch. Even though there were some whispers following his Dauphine podium, there are no GC ambitions for the American, and even if there were, they were wiped out yesterday as he struggled and lost six minutes. 

Rossetto and Offredo move out to 3:40 as Lotto Soudal control the front of the peloton. 

Van Garderen has received some medical attention from the doctor's car, and is now rolling along at the back of the bunch. It's going to be a long day for him. 

Kasper Asgreen, the Julien Vermote of the 2019 Tour, comes through to the front of the bunch. He's Deceuninck-QuickStep's go-to workhorse this year, and seems to have recovered from that crash that snapped his bike in two on stage 3. With results like 2nd in Flanders, a stage win and third overall at the Tour of California, and a Danish TT title - all in his first full season as a pro - he won't be a mere workhorse for much longer. 

Asgreen is joined up front by Lotto Soudal's Maxime Monfort and Jumbo-Visma's Tony Martin. It's just those three rotating at the moment. So the teams of the three favourites - Viviani, Ewan, Groenewegen - are doing the work here. 

Hang about. What's going on here? Attack from the peloton, and it's the AG2R duo of Alexis Gougeard and Oliver Naesen....

204km remaining from 230km

Naesen and Gougeard slot back into the bunch. Fun's over. 

Nice to see the AG2R lads having a laugh. It can't be easy, in the circumstances. Their leader Romain Bardet was way off the pace on La Planche des Belles Filles yesterday and suffered a big blow to his hopes of improving on his 2016 and 2017 podiums. Apparently this morning he told his teammates on the bus that he was "ashamed" of himself.

198km remaining from 230km

The gap between Rossetto and Offredo hits five minutes but then comes down slightly. It has stabilised now and that's a pretty tight leash to keep two riders on over 230km. 

Ineos ride just behind the Jumbo-QuickStep-Lotto trio, with Bernal behind a couple of teammates. Thomas, though, is about halfway down the peloton. 

The two leaders are on the Colde Ferrière. Fair play to the crowds - loads of them. 

192km remaining from 230km

187km remaining from 230km

We have another Tour de France 'postcard' for you today. It's none other than Christian Prudhomme, who recalls the path that took him to directing the biggest race in the world - from listening to Luc Varenne call the races on Belgian radio, to becoming a journalist himself, and then being plucked from the press room and placed in one of the most important roles at ASO. He touches on what the Tour de France means, and how he's trying to protect it. 

180km remaining from 230km

Here's a shot of Gougeard and Naesen fooling around a little earlier.

'A really really fast one'

174km remaining from 230km

The peloton are hardly pushing on, and that means the two escapees aren't really doing so either. On a stage this long, they also have to pace out their effort. It's a classic breakaway tactic to keep a lid on things in this phase of the race and leave something in the tank to make a big effort in the final hour or two and maybe - just maybe - catch the peloton off-guard. 

Here's a shot of our intrepid duo

It's noteworthy that Pinot and his FDJ teammates are riding just behind the carthorses. He's had a strong start to the Tour and his team are assuming more responsibility and making their presence felt more than in previous years. They produced a very strong TTT on stage 2 and David Gaudu was exceptional on La Planche des Belles Filles yesterday, at a point where Ineos had no one to support Thomas and Bernal. 

160km remaining from 230km

'I had a dream...'

Want to see what Ciccone looks like in yellow? Here you go

And what of the man he took it from? Julian Alaphilippe was superb on La Planche des Belles Filles, attacking out of a group containing just the strongest GC riders. Everyone was wondering if he could hang onto it, and he did everything right, but he lost out in a more unexpected way as the break gained enough time with a close enough rider in Ciccone. His team - built largely around Viviani - are not strong in the mountains and arguably allowed the break too much leeway. Alaphilippe was bitterly disappointed but remained philosophical...

142km remaining from 230km

Tejay van Garderen, by the way, is still in there near the back of the bunch. 

The peloton have picked up the pace on the approach to the climb, and the two leaders hit it with their lead reduced to below the three-minute mark. 

Offredo and Rossetto calmly take on what isn't exactly a straight forward climb, and their lead now grows once again. It's up at four minutes. 

135km remaining from 230km

A weird crash for Nicolas Roche, who falls forward onto his front. He's back up and running and looks ok. 

Michael Matthews will try and rival the pure sprinters today. We grabbed a word with him at the start this morning, and he's happy with his form but is struggling to adapt mentally to his new role now there's no Tom Dumoulin in the team. He also complains that there's "no real respect in the peloton these days". Full story in the link below.

The average speed so far has been 34.7km/h, putting us just behind the slowest predicted time schedule. 

121km remaining from 230km

Speaking of musettes, here's the latest in our weekly round-ups of the world’s best cycling gear.

116km remaining from 230km

115km remaining from 230km

113km remaining from 230km

110km remaining from 230km

And now the gap rises to nearly 5 minutes. 

La Planche des Belles Filles was billed as the first big test of this Tour and the first chance to gain an insight into how the overall battle might unfold. Here's Barry Ryan with a look at the lie of the land. 

That was quick. Newly clad in yellow, Trek-Segafredo have just announced they've extended with Ciccone through to 2021. More on that soon. 

Go @RuthWinder ! https://t.co/yM7LfvGJc1

85km remaining from 230km

82km remaining from 230km

Here's Thomas in the bunch. There were many doubts surrounding his form ahead of the race, not to mention his leadership status at Ineos alongside Egan Bernal. His performance on La Planche des Belles Filles, then, was quite the statement. You can read his thoughts in this story by Stephen Farrand. 

74km remaining from 230km

Are you reading this live blog and wondering how you can watch this sporting drama with your own eyes? No, fine ok, but this will at least come in handy for the other stages. 

The gap stands at just below two minutes. From here the pace will gradually ramp up. The intermediate sprint with 33.5km to go will also have a decent run-in. 

59km remaining from 230km

56km remaining from 230km

And now it's knocked off again, as Asgreen lets up and Martin comes back to the front. This is a weird stage. 

50km remaining from 230km

Puncture for Wout Van Aert, who should be able to get back in without problem. 

"This season Giulio has already made a big step, but we are convinced he still has a great margin of improvement and I am curious to see where his limits are."

43km remaining from 230km

We're 10km away from the intermediate sprint, so we'll have a bit of action soon. They're on narrow country roads at the moment. 

Here's how things stand in the points classification ahead of the intermediate sprint.

The image that tells the story of the peloton today, the image that will be burned onto my retinas for the rest of the evening

37km remaining from 230km

Offredo could have done with some Spinacis today. His arms are folded over his handlebars and he's been in that position for much of the day. 

33km remaining from 230km

And now for the peloton, and we will have a contest here. 

Bahrain take it up for Colbrelli

Colbrelli gets a full-on lead-out and duly takes maximum points. Sagan is on his wheel and is second to the line, ahead of Viviani and Matthews. 

Big increase in tempo in the peloton. Van Avermaet helps pile it on, along with Gougeard. 

How strong is the wind? It's not splitting but the peloton is stretched out and they're carrying on with it. 

31km remaining from 230km

Split in the bunch and Dan Martin is caught out!

Wout Van Aert is also caught on the wrong side of this split and he sets off to try and close the gap.

Rui Costa is there for UAE and comes to the front to pace Martin back.

They're already 30 seconds back

Quintana is back there as well!

The peloton has bunched up again, and that might allow Martin and Quintana to get back in. 

The gap was reported as 38 seconds at one point, but none of their rivals have taken the opportunity to twist the knife. The pace has slowed in the bunch and it will come back together. 

The group of around 15 - Quintana had Erviti there with him and S.Yates and Haig were back there for Mitchelton - now regains contact with the main peloton. 

Word is Quintana was having a toilet stop. Not the best moment for that.

25km remaining from 230km

Asgreen, Martin, Monfort, remarkably, still on the front. Now, though, the other teams are starting to get themselves organised. 

Predictions please

20km remaining from 230km

Viviani is predicting a fast one because of the length of the finishing straight

The long home straight will suit Viviani and Deceuninck, who have the strongest lead-out train. If they're well positioned through that last bend, they'll be hard to beat, especially since the road isn't wide at all. Groenewegen has a lot to prove after his opening-day crash and the big mix-up with Teunissen on stage 4. Ewan reckons he has the speed in his legs to win one. Sagan will be there or thereabouts. And what about Kristoff - very strong in finishing runner-up to Viviani on stage 4. 

@paddyfletch Viviani FTW

@paddyfletch Ewan for thé win

@paddyfletch pulling for Ewan to get in on the action and snag a victory today! He's due!

@paddyfletch Odd Christian Eiking

16km remaining from 230km

Bora line up on the left-hand side of the road, Astana next to them. FDJ are on the right, Sunweb next to them. Asgreen is in the middle. It's your usual mix of sprint trains and GC teams. 

13km remaining from 230km

Rossetto sits up and accepts his fate. Not so Offredo, who gets those arms over the bars once more and grits his teeth.

12km remaining from 230km

The pace ramps up now as the nerves increase.

Tony Martin, as if he hasn't done enough today, takes it up for Jumbo on the right. Asgreen, too, is still going on the opposite side of the road. 

It's split down the middle of the road as we head into the final 10km. Jumbo and Sunweb on the right, Bora and FDJ on the right. 

Dimension Data have numbers in the middle now. They have Nizzolo and Boasson Hagen.

They come off the wide main road now, turning right onto a road that's actually still pretty wide. It will get narrow soon though. 

8km remaining from 230km

And now they come through a big roundabout. The route loops around now and back into the centre for a finish along the river.

6km remaining from 230km

6km remaining from 230km

Van Baarle takes it up for Ineos, who are still on the front.

QuickStep move up now on the right. 

Argy bargy as Sagan loses the wheel of Oss. 

Jumbo and Sunweb have riders on the front now, as Ineos slip back. 

Warren Barguil is helping drag Greipel up. 

4km remaining from 230km

Van Aert has raised the pace. Jumbo have Jansen there plus Teunissen for Groenewegen. 

3km remaining from 230km

Van Aert still holds pole position as they take big bend. It's narrow and stretched out. 

Monster turn from Van Aert

2km remaining from 230km

Alaphilippe helps QuickStep move up towards the front.

1km remaining from 230km

Jansen is done and Bora take it up with Oss.

Groenewegen fighting for position now.

750km remaining from 230km

Lampaert moves over for Morkov.

And now RIcheze leads out Viviani.

Viviani sprints but Groenewegen hits out...

And takes it!!

It's tight! Ewan goes right and produces a fine sprint but Groenewegen takes it by a couple of centimetres. Sagan finishes third as Viviani fades badly. 

Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) wins stage 7 of the Tour de France

It was a messy final couple of kilometres but in the end QuickStep came through to take control with that familiar lead-out train. Lampaert, Morkov, Richeze...as they peeled off it looked like Viviani would finish the job again. But the Italian had no turn of speed and was soon out of the running. A fraction before Richeze was done, Groenewegen hit out and went left. A moment later, and seeing it in his periphery, Ewan went right. They both eased past Viviani and it was really tight between the pair, but Groenewegen edged it by a hair.

Sagan finished a more distant third, Colbrelli fourth, and Jasper Philipsen, who surged away to try and track Groenewegen from a distance (leaving Kristoff in the process) fifth.

Top 10

No change on GC

That's Groenewegen's third Tour stage, after two last year. It's Jumbo's third win of this Tour, and Groenewegen's disappointment from the opening-day crash has well and truly been banished. 

Let's hear from Groenewegen

Hearing Viviani had a slow puncture on his front tyre.

Here's our stage 7 page, where you'll find report, results, photos.

Over in Italy, Elizabeth Banks won stage 7 of the Giro Rosa. Catch up on that here

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