That's how close it was from the front...
Troyes - Nuits-Saint-Georges
Tour de France - 7 July 2017
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No change in the overall standings ahead of the weekend in the Jura mountains, with Chris Froome retaining his yellow jersey.
Kristoff took fourth and Degenkolb in fifth ahead of Groenewegen and Greipel. Demare was nowhere to be seen - probably busy slapping Bouhanni, who was also notably absent.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) had to settle for second place very much 'a la Coquard' while Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) was third.
How the jury came to that decision, I don't know. It looked like a dead heat, but instead it's a hat-trick for the Quick-Step Floors powerhouse.
Victory for Marcel Kittel of Quick-Step Floors!
The photo is inconclusive... from above, it looks like Boasson Hagen, but from the side it's a DEAD HEAT!
Boasson Hagen and Kristoff go shoulder to shoulder in the finale... but Kittel comes up... PHOTO FINISH!!!
The Dimension Data train comes to the front ahead of the flamme rouge... But it's Quick-Step who take over.
Lotto Soudal and Katusha taking a back seat for now...
LIghtening fast now as FDJ and Sunweb come to the front. Speeds above 70kmph.
The pack splits around a central reservation - and already Bouhanni and Demare are going shoulder to shoulder... they almost came to blows there.
It's now a tail-wind as the pack passes under the 5-to-go banner. We're about to witness a ding-dong bunch sprint - and they've been fairly intense so far in this year's Tour to date, so buckle up and get ready.
Van Baarle has a pop, then Mori, but they can't get rid of Bouet - and it looks like they will all be caught at the same time... Mori shakes his head - then offers his hands to his companions. They all shake each other's hands - and then that's that. Game on!
Yohann Gene is first to call it a day - and he'll soon see his Direct Energie team-mates, who are riding on the front of the pack. Perhaps they fancy things for Adrien Petit, who was 12th yesterday.
Attack from Maxime Bouet, who's clearly keen to get the combativity prize today. He's reeled in by the others and van Baarle once again takes it up.
These four breakaway riders have amassed 203km out in front now - but they only have 20 seconds to play with. Movistar are getting in the mix, while Quick-Step have at least five riders - with Julien Vermote, who else, doing the honours.
Philippe Gilbert has taken it up now for Quick-Step Floors, the Tour of Flanders champion helping to reduce the gap to 30 seconds. Katusha are the other team there, while LottoNL-Jumbo have moved up for Groenewegen.
The gap is getting larger - probably because the GC teams have swamped the front and they're not concerned about reeling them in. It's up to 50 seconds now for Gene, Bouet, van Baarle and Mori.
So many major players of the Tour are near the front because they all need to make the most of their opportunities. The wind and splits may never materialise, but you need to be there just in case they do. In a race where there won't be many opportunities to catch out your rivals, you need to be on it all the time. The gap goes up to 30 seconds.
Just 20 seconds now for the break, who continue to share the load even though their carrots are pretty much cooked.
It's Tony Martin time: Katusha-Alpecin push up in the wind and the German joins Marco Haller alongside Sky and Quick-Step. Poised to cause some strife?
The pack has left that wooded section and so the roads are a bit more exposed now. It remains to be seen if the winds cause the expected damage as feared - we can only hope. It would make for something a bit different, after all.
Now Sky and Movistar take up the pace-setting on the front of the pack in these straight roads sheltered by trees. They trail the four leaders by 27 seconds as Ag2R-La Mondiale and Astana all make their presence known, too. BMC and Trek as well: they're all there in formation.
The gap is 45 seconds for the four escapees, who can now see the peloton behind them as they ride along a long, flat and exposed road. The wind seems to have dropped a touch, so it's the calm before the storm.
Belgian national champion Oliver Naesen comes to the front ahead of a couple of AG2R-La Mondiale riders in support of their man Romain Bardet, who has had a quiet Tour so far - and I mean that in a good way. Apart from that crash in the wet roundabout back in Belgium (or was it Germany?) - which did for his rivals Chris Froome and Richie Porte too - Bardet has gone under the radar. He'll be chomping at the bit ahead of the Jura mountains over the weekend...
Team Sky and Movistar have now come to the front because of the threat of those crosswinds. The gap is down to one minute for the break as the tension continues to rise...
Fabio Aru's Astana team-mates have edged forward as well - it's clear that there are many nervous riders out there. It has been so windy today that French Eurosport's Jacky Durand claims there is no way that 120 riders will arrive together at the finish - he's expecting the peloton to fragment quite considerably before the sprint...
And here come the Katusha-Alpecin cavalry, also lending a hand ahead of their man Alexander Kristoff's attempt to open up his account today. The gap has come down to 1:55 now for the four men.
The pace has gone up considerably now as Quick-Step commit another man to the chase - Jack Bauer joining Julien Vermote and contributing to the pulls of Lotto Soudal.
With the winds quite blustery around Nuit-Saint-Georges, teams will be on alert to ensure they're in the right position to either profit from this - or not miss out.
Tell you what, the terrain today is lumpier than the profile suggests. The peloton is currently tackling a tree-lined climb with Cofidis, Quick-Step, Lotto Soudal and Trek all on the front. The four leaders have 2:35 on the pack - they're through the woodland and riding through a little village.
The Trek-Segafredo team of Alberto Contador and the BMC team of Richie Porte are near the front now in this tailwind, trying to keep their GC riders out of trouble. Trek may even target a high finish for John Degenkolb, who has only once cracked the top ten so far in this year's Tour - and that was yesterday.
Cofidis finally send a man onto the front to lend a hand - in the not inconsiderable form of Christophe Laporte. The French team are buying the right to fight in the final sprint - one of the unwritten rules of cycling - and it's going to be another fiesty one, especially with the beef simmering away between their man Nacer Bouhanni and his former FDJ colleagues.
As in the intermediate sprint, it's Mori and Bouet who do battle from the break over the summit of the climb - and the Frenchman just does enough to hold on to the take the solitary point on offer. That was quite well contested considering neither rider is of any import in the KOM polka dot jersey classification.
We're onto the gentle Cat.4 Cote d'Urcy (2.5km at 4.2%). It's nothing more than a quite scenic bump - there's no way it is going to be of any strategic importance in the grand scheme of things.
The riders have completed that sweeping downhill and are approaching the climb, with the break now just over two minutes ahead.
Roglic wasn't the only one to go down in that crash: Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) and Dani Navarro (Cofidis) also hit the deck. They all got back on their bikes, mind.
That man Primoz Roglic, who crashed in the feed zone when his musette got caught in his chain, has gone down again, we're hearing. Perhaps there was still an issue with the Slovenian's bike. Either way, he's having a troubled debut Tour. Roglic was meant to shine in the opening ITT in Dusseldorf, but he was one of three LottoNL-Jumbo riders to crash in the wet. And that's now a second crash in the space of an hour...
The terrain has got a bit lumpier as the riders climb up before a descent to the foot of the only categorised climb of the day. The gap is still over three minutes for these four escapees - Bouet, Mori, Gene and van Baarle, who have been out sinde the first kilometre.
Thanks to the expected post-prandial slump from the peloton, the break's advantage has crept back to 3:30. And look, it's getting windy...
There's always one...
The break passes through the feed zone with a 2:35 gap over the peloton – and Maxime Bouet takes the opportunity to have some fun and japes at the expense of his team soigneur.
With a sprint expected at the finish – and two riders head and shoulders above the rest of the field in this domain – today’s stage is all about the Demare vs Kittel showdown.
Once again, Bahrain Merida are giving Sonny Cobrelli a good lead-out for this intermediate sprint – and it’s the Italian who takes the points for fifth place when the peloton comes through, ahead of Kristoff, Greipel, Matthews and Demare. Kittel didn’t contest it after it looked like he was stuck in the small ring following that slight climb.
The intermediate sprint at Chanceaux is coming up – and there’s a little uphill slog before it, which will suit some more than others. Manuele Mori wins a little tussle with Maxime Bouet to take maximum points, with the other two escapees passing through 20 metres back.
More consistent has been Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, who finished runner-up to Sagan in Logwy on that uphill ramp of a finish, but then 7th in Troyes and Vittel and 9th in Liege. The Australian clearly doesn’t have the pure speed when it comes to a flat finish – but he’s good when the road heads up a bit. Today’s finish is on a false flat so it could suit him – but the stage that has his name on it, especially now that Sagan has been sent packing, is Stage 14 to Rodez.
Who else could be a factor in the sprint? Well, with Cavendish and Sagan out, the door has been opened to other second-tier sprinters. Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen has been knocking on the door, but he has not yet done enough to convince the bouncers to let him in. He was fifth in Liege, got caught up in the earlier crash at Vittel, and sixth yesterday. The former national champion is a fast finisher, but he lacks the lead-out train at LottoNL-Jumbo and has struggled to pick the right wheel and line so far.
One sprinter who's has little joy so far is Alexander Kristoff of Katusha-Alpecin, who still seeks a first win on the Tour since 2014. The Norwegian was 4th yesterday, 2nd at Vittel following Sagan's DQ and 15th at Liege. "Kittel and Demare are not easy to beat at the moment”, Kristoff told letour.com. "They're in really good shape. For the moment on a stage like today with straight roads and a straight finish, Kittel is the fastest. We have to do something special to beat them or hope for them to make a mistake. Demare has also been good all week, and even all year. He's made a big step this year and he's there every day. I've had the experience of getting better in the third week. Usually, a harder race suits me. Crosswinds could make it hard today."
Good stat coming up: yesterday, Marcel Kittel levelled Andre Greipel’s tally of 11 stage wins on the Tour. Should either of them win today in Nuits-Saint-George they would level Erik Zabel’s all-time record stage count for a German: 12.
Still Vermote (Kittel), Bak (Greipel) and Le Gac (Demare) on the front of the pack ahead of the Sky train. The gap is fairly stable at 2:25. They know that the harder they ride now to keep the gap down, the less work they will have to do later on in the stage ahead of the expected bunch sprint.
Nacer Bouhanni has some mechanical difficulties and needs a new bike. The Cofidis sprinter has yet to win a stage on the Tour de France - and got in a war of words yesterday with Arnaud Demare's lead-out man Jacobo Guarnieri, who accused him of dangerous sprinting and being a "d*ck" during the frantic finale in Troyes. To which Bouhanni responded, on Twitter: "Pot calling the kettle black".
Team Sky are remaining alert and on the front of the peloton for their man in yellow, Chris Froome. It's warm and sunny - but there's a chance of crosswinds later in the stage, so it's not an entirely off-day for the GC men. The gap is still 2:25 for the four escapees, who are being afforded no favours today.
Nairo Quintana is currently eating a banana. Perhaps he should toss the skin behind him and in front of Chris Froome - for that seems like the only way he'll be able to dislodge the currently yellow jersey. After coming runner-up in May's Giro to Tom Dumoulin, the Colombian has had a slow start to the Tour and trails his rival by 54 seconds on GC ahead of the first weekend in the mountains.
For now, Vermote is taking a break and so it's another familiar face, that of Lars Bak, on the front. The Dane from Lotto Soudal plays a similar role for Andre Greipel - and today he'll be hoping that his hard work results in a maiden win this year for the veteran German. Greipel has finished third three times in sprints so far - but he has a track record of stage wins at Grand Tours stretching back all the way to 2008 and so don't write him off just yet.
One person who appreciates Vermote's all-important work at keeping the breakaways on a tight leash is the chief benefactor, Marcel Kittel. The German has now won two stages in this year's Tour - and he had this message of thanks to his team-mate yesterday in Troyes.
If you're not familiar with the towering Julien Vermote - Quick-Step Floors' breakaway killer - here's what he looks like without his helmet.
It's another super-hot day in eastern France, with temperatures well above 30 degrees in the sunshine. Got to keep hydrated and refreshed during stages like this - just as the man setting the tempo in the peloton.
The gap is down to 2:20 for the four leaders. It's worth noting that the best placed rider in this break is French veteran Maxime Bouet, who is 5:22 down on Chris Froome in the general classification. He was close to a virtual maillot jaune, but only for a while.
Here's Brian 'The Coach' Smith on the hidden dangers of today's finish - not just for the sprinters trying to win it, but for the GC riders trying to stay out of trouble ahead of the mountains.
Vermote and Bak - who have spend most of their respective Tours riding on the front of the peloton chasing breakaways for their sprinters - finally acknowledge each other's presence. The gap is down to 2:48 for the four leaders.
With just the one KOM point on offer today, there will be no change in the climbing classification today. Fabio Aru currently wears the polka dot jersey after winning atop La Planche des Belles Filles a few days ago. The Italian is on 10pts with his nearest rivals being Dan Martin on 8pts and Froome on 6pts. Expect a shake up over the weekend in the Jura mountains, mind: there's 17pts up for grabs on Saturday and a whopping 70pts on Sunday.
Here's the official profile of the stage today - with some rolling roads in the middle either side of the intermediate sprint. Just the one Cat.4 climb, though, so don't expect anything other than a bunch gallop at the finish.
Whoever wins the expected bunch sprint today - Kittel? Greipel? Demare? Bouhanni? Kristoff? - will certainly be the toast of town on Friday night as they follow in the tyre-tracks of some (semi) illustrious riders: Nuits-Saint-George (population 5,700) has twice hosted finishes in Paris-Nice with vintage victories from both Freddy Maertens (1977) and Matthew Goss (2011). Who's your money on? Tweet me @Saddleblaze and I'll publish the best suggestions here in the live thread.
The winner of today's stage would be well advised to forego the usual celebratory bubbles and pop a cork or two of the local rouge – made from the smooth Pinot Noir grape. Nuit-Saint-Georges is found in the heart of the Burgundy wine region and just a few clicks south of Dijon, renowned for its mustard. While there are no Grand Cru vineyards within the Nuits-Saint-Georges sub-section, eight bottles of the feted Romanée-Conti red from the neighbouring Côte de Nuits fetched $224,900 at auction at Sotheby’s London in 1996 (it takes the produce of three vines to make one bottle). Cheers!
Today is the fifth stage in seven which has been more than 200km long and which will result in a bunch sprint. I think we understand what Roman Kreuziger is on about...
Here's our three-man break riding through Renoir country. Today is going to be a tricky day for the commentators... It's lucky Carlton Kirby has no end of things he can chew the fat over. The gap is 3:45.
So, yes, that man Demare. He's the green jersey after sprinting consistently - not just fast, but also recklessly if you believe the line taken his critics (a line which, unlike Demare, doesn't veer off course and in the path of others). After his Stage 4 victory and strong showing in the intermediate sprints, Demare has 170pts to Marcel Kittel's 143pts in what is shaping up to be a thrilling two-way battle for green. But the French national champion has been accused of dangerous sprinting - and even by causing the Sagan/Cavendish incident a few days ago, after which he also cut up Nacer Bouhanni. Demare was up to his same antics yesterday, barging Marco Haller and cutting up Edvald Boasson Hagen in the finale. Some believe the racy jury are not showing enough consistency, having kicked off Peter Sagan but done nothing with Demare.
Frenchman Olivier Le Gac of FDJ joins Vermote and Bak on the front. Le Gac has been a bit ill since the start of the race and he's currently the Lanterne Rouge - the last man in the Tour general classification - the best part of one hour down on Froome (57'34" to be precise). He is one of Arnaud Demare's team-mates, the Frenchman who wears the green jersey. More on him later...
A reminder that Chris Froome is in the yellow jersey for a second day after taking over at the top from Geraint Thomas on Wednesday's stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. Froome leads the Welshman by 12 seconds, with the Stage 5 winner Fabio Aru of Astana in third place, a further two seconds back. Dan Martin and Richie Porte complete the top five at 25 and 39 seconds.
The gap quickly grows to three minutes for this break. Meanwhile, the riders in the peloton fall into their familiar roles as Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors) and Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) come to the front. We'll have to get used to this sight for a while. Tucked in just behind, we have Chris Froome's Team Sky train.
Four riders ping off the front from the outset: Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates), Maxime Bouet (Fortuneo-Oscaro) and Yohann Gene (Direct Energie) open up a gap on the pack.
They're off! Race director Christian Prudhomme does his one job of the day and waves the flag from the sun roof of the red Skoda... and the 193 riders get this next sprinters' stage under way.
Yesterday, Germany’s Marcel Kittel proved too fast for Frenchman Arnaud Demare and compatriot Andre Greipel to notch his second win of the 2017 Tour de France at Troyes, as Britain's Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey. Read the full report below...
Here's what's in store today for the riders in the 213.5km stage from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges, with just the one small categorised climb on the menu.
Hello and welcome to live coverage of Stage 7 of the Tour de France - yet another 200km+ stage which should culminate in yet another bunch sprint finale.