Result: Edvald Boasson Hagen won the bunch sprint in Lisieux. He finished ahead of Matt Goss and Thor Hushovd to take Team Sky’s first ever stage victory in the Tour de France.
Here’s how it happened: The early part of today’s stage followed a now familiar pattern as once more the peloton allowed a small breakaway to go clear. This time there were five riders in the group for most of the day but with 60km to go, Lieuwe Westra and Adriano Malori (who finished in last place in the 2010 Tour) attacked their breakaway companions and rode clear.
In horrible weather conditions there was a minor split in the peloton as some riders got caught out and lost time. Contador was again in the wars as he needed to borrow a bike off a team-mate before making his way back to the bunch with about 30km to go.
Out front, Westra was caught by the bunch with 16km to go. Malori, the current Italian time trial champion lasted longer out front but was also caught just 3km from the finish.
A counter-attack by Thomas Voeckler was quickly reeled in as Geraint Thomas gave Boasson Hagen the perfect lead out to sprint clear of Goss and yellow jersey wearer Hushovd to take the biggest win of his career.
The Big Winners: Team Sky. Last year, their self-trumpeting and over-confidence got on other teams’ nerves and their plans to win the Tour de France with Bradley Wiggins failed spectacularly.
But this year, Team Sky have reorganised and haven’t been over-ambitious with their goals for the season. The entire team seem more relaxed and Boasson Hagen’s stage win today will only add to the good atmosphere within the team and will act as a massive morale booster for Wiggins’s assault on the GC.
Johnny Hoogerland’s exploits in the breakaway have earned him the polka-dot jersey as the current leader of the King of the Mountains classification. It’s a bit of a misnomer as the climbs in the race so far have been more hills than mountains but it’s a deserved reward nonetheless for one of the most gung-ho riders in the peloton.
The Big Loser: Levi Leipehimer slipped off the side of the road with 4km to go, just as the bunch were reaching the short climb before the finish. He never resumed contact and ended up losing just over a minute on his fellow G.C. contenders.
What about the Irish? Nicolas Roche again kept his powder dry in the slippy conditions as the sprinters had their day. He finished in 21st place in the peloton and remains 1’12″ behind Hushovd in 23rd place overall. Apart from Leipheimer, there were no major GC changes as the main contenders don’t come out to play until Stage Eight on Saturday.
What happens tomorrow? A more straightforward bunch sprint. Besides the final stage into Paris, this is the only other stage which doesn’t contain a categorised climb. With a couple of middle mountain stages to follow, this could be the sprinters’ last chance for victory before the first rest day on Monday.
The stage finishes in Chateauroux, the scene of Mark Cavendish’s first ever Tour stage win in 2008. He has already shown that he’s in good enough shape to win a stage on a slight uphill finish this year. The world’s best sprinter eats pan flat stages like this for breakfast and will be near impossible to beat if he’s up there in the finale.