Kittel wins Tour de France stage seven after photo-finish with Boasson Hagen

Marcel Kittel won stage seven of the Tour de France to claim the green jersey after a lunge to the line ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen

It would be a disservice to use the B term boring for sprint stages such as Thursdays and Fridays, both won by Marcel Kittel and, on the way here, with not even a wayward, windblown umbrella to disturb the torpor in the peloton for much of the stage. Perhaps better to think of these days as resembling a good burgundy, which needs a long time to take in the air before making something with a special savor to it.

Appropriately in a land where wine-making and tasting is a way of life, Kittels second stage in two days was won by a nose. A very small one at that. This was one of the tightest stage victories the Tour has ever seen, eclipsing even last years whisker-thin margin between Kittel and Bryan Coquard at Limoges. Having timed his run perfectly the previous day, Kittel again left his final effort late to sneak past Edvald Boasson Hagen in the final metres for his third win in seven days.

Even on the official evaluate camera, with a resolution of 10,000 images a second, this looked for all the world like a dead heat until the judges ultimately called it in favour of the German. The margin was stated as 0.0003 sec, or 6mm. Tyres have increased in size in recent years 25 or 28 mm is now the norm rather than the previous 20 or 23 mm, which is just as well when finishes are decided by a treads width.

Without Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, the sprints in this years Tour can no longer be termed grand cru but the dash up the 5.5 kilometre-long finish straight was a decent vintage premier cru perhaps even if the mornings green jersey holder, Arnaud Dmare, was a touch below his belligerent best due to a slight illness, relinquishing the jersey to Kittel after the finish.

The peloton turned right just before the five kilometre to run flag and sped up Route de Beaune helped by a stiff tailwind which pushed them to speeds approaching 50 mph, with some riders visibly struggling to turn the pedals fast enough. The pace was set initially by Orica-Scott, clearly keen to keep Simon Yates out of difficulty, then by Dimension Data, who have proven surprising keenness to get involved in the sprint finishes after Cavendishs departure with a broken shoulder on Tuesday, even though the all-rounder Boasson Hagen, fast as he undoubtedly is, has never truly indicated the absolute speed needed to press the specialists to the limit.

This finish suited the Norwegian better than most, however, being so fast that there was barely any opportunity for anything untoward to happen in the run-in. Boasson Hagen ran early, which is the best alternative with a tailwind of this kind, as the first rider to jump will always have the advantage; it took the form sprinter of the Tour to beat him, by an infinitesimal margin, and it came down to Kittels final hurl of his bike.

Chris
Chris Froome, seen here through a window of a spectators house, retained the yellow jersey after a comfy ride. Photo: Christophe Ena/ AP

There has been a set pattern to these early stages, with the same teams getting in doomed breakaways day in day out: Cannondale-Garmin, Fortuneo-Oscaro, Direct Energie, the Belgians of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, and latterly the UAE team. These flat-earth escapees target the intermediate sprint and mountains primes, and the all-important television time, but over the weekend the escapes will have a different goal: these are days when an early move could well stay away to contest the finish and, with the Tour stages now presented live from the start, the opening kilometres could induce enthralling viewing as each days move forms.

There is a gradual crescendo to the climbing in this Tour; after Wednesdays mountain top finish, on Saturday the bolt turns up another notch with third- and second-category ascendings before the first-category climb to the Combe de Laisia Les Molunes, 12 km from the finish at Les Rousses. That should give the race time to develop after the climbing, but there is a strong chance that a win will come from a long-distance breakaway, and perhaps a new yellow jersey depending on how Team Sky view developments.

Inordinately hilly if never in a particularly massive style after a flat first 30 kilometres, it is a stage that has the name of the British national champ Steve Cummings writ big on it. It should offer prospects aplenty to Chris Froomes rivals, but they have proved singularly unable to create openings in any of Team Skys four Tour wins to date.

Ominously, Froome said that he felt Team Sky had had an easy start to the race. Relatively speaking the guys are still fresh. We havent had to do a whole lot of work on the front.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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