Tour de France. We knew that today's stage would test the legs of the riders for the first time, and that it would take a good, all-around cyclist to claim the victory. What we didn't anticipate was that just a few centimeters would be the difference, and that is exactly what separated Stage 7 winner Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step from Peter Sagan of Cannondale.
The day featured the first real climbing challenges that we've seen so far, but they still pale in comparison to what is to come, starting this weekend. A few breakaway attempts failed to result in much drama for the peloton, and it wasn't until riders crewed the final hill, just a few kilometers from the finish, that the pressure was really felt. Sagan was part of the group that slipped away, as he looked to claim for points in the Green Jersey competition, and possibly earn himself a stage win for the first time this year. Unfortunately, it seems he left the pack just a bit too early, and was caught by a chase group not far from the finish. Saving his energy for one final push, he upped his tempo at just the right time. But Trentin had just a bit more power left in his legs, and literally caught the Cannondale rider at the line. The photo finish showed only the slights difference between first and second place.
Sagan has continued his string of good days, as the Slovak rider has failed to finish in the top 5 yet this year. As a result, he has increased his point standing in the chase for the Green Jersey, as he looks to take that classification home for the third year in a row. There was no change in the overall standing of the General Classification, as Vincenzo Nibali continues to ride in Yellow. Likewise, Cyril Lemoine kept the Polk Dot Jersey of the King of the Mountains, although serious challenges for that will likely come this weekend. The White Jersey for the best young rider under the age of 25 still belong to Sagan as well, although it is on loan to Michal Kwiatkowski to wear out on the road.
The weather was more cooperative today for the riders, and the predicted rain held off, making it less dangerous to ride the roads of northern France. Despite the improved conditions, there were still a number of crashes, including one that involved Tejay Van Garderen, who ended up losing time to Nibali. He now sits 3 minutes and 14 seconds off the lead. American's looking for their best hope to win the race, may want to keep an eye on Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp. He was in the mix heading to the finish line before he crashed as well. Due to the location of the crash however, he didn't give up any time, and now sits in 7th place overall, 2 minutes and 5 seconds off the pace.
Tomorrow, the riders will face a 161 km (100 mile) ride from Tomblaine to Gérardmer La Mauselaine that will feature steady climbing throughout the day, with two Category 2 climbs near the end, followed by a Cat 3 climb to the finish. On Sunday, things get even more challenging not he 170 km (105.6 mile) Stage 9 that runs from Gérardmer to Mulhouse. It will include a series of tough climbs along the entire route, including the first Category 1 climb of the year. It has a downhill finish however, which should bring the peloton back together. Monday will also feature some big climbs, including a Category 1 to the finish, before heading into the first rest day on Tuesday.
The GC should really start to sort itself out some tomorrow, and by Monday we'll have a good idea as to who is in form to challenge for the Yellow Jersey this year. Nibali is riding well, and doesn't look to be having any problems, but his strength in the mountains versus the really great climbers has yet to be seen. On the other hand, with Chris Froome gone from the race, and Alberto Contador looking vulnerable, it seems the Italian is as good a choice to win the race as any. There are still two weeks of riding to go however, and a lot can happen between now and Paris.