Stage 7: Almendralejo to Mairena de Alijarafe, 195.5km
A throw of the handlebars from Zdenek Stybar was enough to deny world champion Philippe Gilbert his first victory in the rainbow jersey by the narrowest of margins. The two had escaped off the front of the peloton 10km from the finish and benefited from the technical finish to hold off the chasing pack by just a second. Belkin’s Robert Wagner won the bunch sprint for third just ahead of Adrien Petit (Cofidis).
A trio comprising Marco Pinotti (BMC), Christian Knees (Sky) and Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural) animated the stage but, despite building an advantage of over seven minutes, were reeled back in by the sprinters’ teams with Pinotti resisting until the last 15km. With under 10km to the finish, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) attacked opportunistically and opened a useful gap while the sprint teams dithered.
Orica-GreenEDGE seized the initiative and worked hard to try to close the 11 seconds between the break and the peloton, with other teams coming to their assistance. But as they rode along Seville’s answer to Milton Keynes, the plethora of roundabouts – one every 500m or so – constantly compressed and spun out the chasing group and the duo’s advantage went back out again as they headed clear under the flamme rouge. Initially Gilbert led, then Stybar jumped hard, Gilbert sat on his wheel but left it too long to come around, and the Czech prevailed.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished safely in the pack, retaining his red jersey. Not so Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin who crashed with 11 km to go, lost 1½ minutes and had to be taken to hospital.
VeloVoices rider of the day
It has to be the stage winner, former cyclocross world champion, Zdenek Stybar (OPQS). Here at VeloVoices, we’re fond of saying that wins are like buses; get one, and others soon follow. The 27-year-old Czech backed up his recent two stage wins and overall victory in the Eneco Tour with a magnificent maiden grand tour victory. In the post-race interview, he cited teammate Tony Martin as inspiration for today’s win:
It is a really beautiful day for me and all the team after yesterday, Tony was fighting so hard and we were so proud of him. He gave all the team such a morale boost that we were really motivated for today’s stage. After 100km I said to the directeur sportif that if there was some attack on the last climb I was going to try. I did it and it worked out. It is not every day you can win ahead of the world champion, so I am very happy.
Analysis & opinion
Still no wins for the world champion but after a gash in his knee which required eight stitches at the Eneco Tour, Philippe Gilbert, much like last year, is slowly finding his form ahead of a stout defence of his rainbow jersey in Tuscany. I’m expecting him to bag a stage win before the Vuelta finshes.
No changes to the overall classification or the jerseys. However, another GC hopeful literally tumbled out of contention today. With the peloton going at full tilt with 11km to go we saw Dan Martin remounting and being paced back up by teammates: a hopeless task. He lost 1:32 to his rivals.
Finally, a word of thanks to the architects of the race parcours. We’ve had surprises galore and we’re only at the end of the first week with most of the exciting summit finishes to come and everything still to play for. While the names on GC have an air of inevitability about them at the moment the word that most springs to mind to describe the racing thus far is unpredictable. Expect those names to start being shaken up this weekend.
Stage 7 result
1. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 4:51:27
2. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) same time
3. Robert Wagner (Belkin) +0:01
4. Adrien Petit (Cofidis) s/t
5. Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 27:29:35
2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:03
3. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:08
4. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:16
5. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:21
6. Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:26
7. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +0:28
8. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:31
9. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:38
10. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:42
Points classification: Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE).
Mountains classification: Nicolas Roche (SaxoTinkoff).
Combination classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).
Team classification: RadioShack-Leopard.
Link: Official website