Mark Cavendish this afternoon won the 17th Tour de France stage of his career in Chatearoux, the town he won his first in, winning a bunch sprint from Lampre-ISD's Alessandro Petacchi and Omega Pharma Lotto's Andre Greipel but the big news for British fans is that Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France is over after the Team Sky rider was involved in a big crash in the peloton just under 40 kilometres from the finish. Thor Hushovd retains the race leader's yellow jersey.
Wiggins, clutching his left arm and possibly having broken his collarbone, received immediate attention from the race doctor, but was in no position to get back on his bike and has been taken to hospital. The incident took place just after a day-long headwind whipped round into a tailwind.
The British champion, sixth overall in the general classification this morning after a solid start to the race, had come to the 98th edition of the Tour de France in the best road racing form of his life, with victory in last month’s Criterium du Dauphiné coming on top of his third place overall in Paris-Nice.
Those performances led to high hopes among both Team Sky and British fans that the 31-year-old could match or even improve upon the fourth place he had achieved in 2009 while riding for Garmin-Cervelo, but those dreams were shattered as the peloton rode through a wooded stretch of road around four fifths of the way through the 218km stage.
Other riders involved in the crash, which caused a big split in the peloton as some riders were held up while those at the front of the bunch stepped up the pace not only to gain time on potential rivals but also with the afternoon’s intermediate sprint looming included RadioShack’s Chris Horner and Astana’s Roman Kreuziger. The latter had only just rejoined the peloton after an earlier crash, but both he and Horner were able to continue riding.
Tyler Farrar, though apparently not directly involved in the crash, was among those held up in the second group, but his team mate and maillot jaune Thor Hushovd was safely in the front group.
Also distanced as a result of the crash were Wiggins’ team mates including Geraint Thomas in the best young rider’s white jersey, having waited in vain to provide support to their team leader should he have remounted. Thomas would finish the stage 3 minutes 6 seconds behind the winner, and the white jersey now passes to Rabobank's Robert Gesink.
Coming just 24 hours after Team Sky had been celebrating Edvald Boasson Hagen’s win in Lisieux, today the Tour de France showed how fortunes can change in a split second.
There had been no warning whatsoever of the drama about to unfold as the peloton headed southeast across the Loire Valley and into la France profonde, with the biggest incident of note being the abandonment with more than 100km left to ride of Quick Step's Tom Boonen, still struggling as a result of the injuries he sustained in a crash two days ago. For the rest of the peloton, it seemed set to be little more than a long, hard day in the saddle, a headwind resulting in a much slower pace then yesterday’s stage.
The riders’ moods wouldn’t have been helped by a 180km transfer to the stage start in Le Mans, where heavy rain awaited them, but the stage appeared to be headed towards a bunch stage finish before the drama unfolded, Wiggins immediately identifiable as he lay on the ground in his British national champion’s jersey.
Following the crash that put paid to Wiggins’ hopes, the peloton eased off in its pursuit of a four-man breakaway, one of whose members, the FDJ rider Mickael Delage, was therefore able to take the maximum 20 points. The other three members of the breakaway were Pablo Urtasun Perez, Yannick Talabardon of Saur-Sojasun, and another FDJ rider, Gianni Meersman.
Mark Cavendish, led out by Mark Renshaw, was able to claim the 13 points on offer to the main bunch, with Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas crossing second behind the two HTC-Highroad riders and points classification leader Philippe Gilbert getting fourth place.
Into the closing kilometres, and for the first time in this race HTC-Highroad managed to get their train in motion in earnest, Tony Martin pulling his team mates up the drag to the flamme rouge before passing the baton to Matt Goss, peeling off for his fellow Australian Mark Renshaw to launch Cavendish for the line.
Petacchi and Greipel, Cavendish's team-mate-turned-rival at HTC in recent seasons, fought hard, but the Manx Missile was just too quick for them as he powered to the line.
Afterwards, learning for the first time of Wiggins' crash, Cavendish said: "I'm gutted for him, he was in the best form of his life. We could have brought home the green jersey and the yellow jersey."
Inevitably today’s stage, with some big time splits in the peloton, resulted in some reshuffling of the GC, the biggest change being that the trio of Sky riders who had occupied 6th, 7th and 8th places this morning - Wiggins, Thomas and Boasson Hagen - no longer feature in the top ten.
Tour de France Stage 7
1 CAVENDISH Mark HTC - HIGHROAD 5h 38' 53"
2 PETACCHI Alessandro LAMPRE - ISD All at same time
3 GREIPEL André OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO
4 FEILLU Romain VACANSOLEIL-DCM
5 BONNET William FDJ
6 GALIMZYANOV Denis KATUSHA
7 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO
8 TURGOT Sébastien EUROPCAR
9 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR
10 HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE
11 PINEAU Jérôme QUICK STEP
12 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ
13 BOZIC Borut VACANSOLEIL-DCM
14 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO
15 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE
16 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK
17 O’GRADY Stuart LEOPARD-TREK
18 MILLAR David GARMIN - CERVELO
19 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO
20 RENSHAW Mark HTC - HIGHROAD
Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 7
1 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 28h 29' 27"
2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 01"
3 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
4 MILLAR David GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 08"
5 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK + 00' 10"
6 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12"
7 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12"
8 MARTIN Tony HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 13"
9 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 13"
10 GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 00' 20"
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