ALBI, France // Slovakian rider Peter Sagan won the hilly seventh stage of the Tour de France in a sprint finish yesterday, and South African Daryl Impey kept the overall race lead.
Sagan held off a challenge from John Degenkolb of Germany to clinch his first stage victory in this year's Tour and extend his lead in the contest for the sprinters' green jersey. The Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati was third.
"I have to say my team did all the work today, they did an incredible job," Sagan, 23, said.
"They showed that they are perfectly capable of doing their job and they did a remarkable job. I'd like to thank them."
Impey began the day as the first South African rider to wear the yellow jersey, but he will likely relinquish it after today's first of two difficult days of climbing in the high mountains of the Pyrenees.
"Very hot, hard day," Impey said. "The whole country really knows about me now, so a lot has changed."
Impey leads Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boasson Hagen by three seconds overall and his Orica Greenedge teammate Simon Gerrans by five seconds.
Keen to get Sagan in a good position to attack, the Cannondale team increased the pace considerably near the end.
Three of them almost fell near the end as they mistimed a corner and their bikes wobbled, but their expert handling and reflexes rescued them.
"This a victory for the whole team, not just for me," said Sagan, who is now in a great position to defend his green jersey.
Sagan's stage win moves him 94 points clear of German rider Andre Greipel and he is already more than 100 points ahead of his archrival, Englishman Mark Cavendish – the 2011 green jersey winner – who was left behind and could not even challenge for the stage win.
The average speed picked up considerably in the fourth hour, jumping up to nearly 50 kph in temperatures again well into 30° Celsius for the 205.5km hilly leg from Montpellier to Albi.
There has hardly been a drop of rain so far – perhaps unsurprising given that the race started on the picturesque island of Corsica before jumping over to Nice on the French riviera, and then down to Marseille and Montpellier.
With 40km remaining, the front three of Belgian rider Jan Bakelants, Frenchman Cyril Gautier and Spaniard Juan Jose Oroz led the yellow jersey group surrounding Impey by 45 seconds and then by 20 seconds with 10km left.
The veteran American rider Christian Vande Velde pulled out after being caught up in an early crash.
The Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boasson Hagen, Colombian rider Nairo Quintana and Michael Schar of Switzerland were among those to also fall about 111km into the stage. They rejoined the race, but Vande Velde, 37, who hurt his back in a crash earlier in the race, was unable to continue.
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