Dimension Data rider Stephen Cummings attacked the leading breakaway with 27 km to go in Stage Seven of the 2016 Tour de France, and outdistanced all attackers to ride alone to his second career Tour de France stage win. The 35-year-old Brit outpaced the entire peloton up the Cat 1 Col d’Aspin, foiling the best efforts of Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali to make up time on the stage.
“Of all my victories, I think it’s the best one,” Cummings told LeTour.com. “The Tour is the Tour, it’s special. I didn’t need to win a stage this year. I had a different condition from last year as I started the Tour riding for Mark [Cavendish] who is such a winner and an inspiration. It’s brilliant, it’s fantastic.
“I wasn’t confident in that group with Nibali and Navarro. Before, I had to play it strategically with the teams who had the numbers, like Cofidis and Cannondale with three riders, Astana with two… I don’t know why Navarro killed himself on the flat because he’s such a good climber but when he rode away with (Breschel) and (Duchesne) it was perfect for me to go with them. Then I avoided Nibali to come across. It was a good strategy, I think!”
Cummings said that while he felt excellent all day long when he won Stage Seven in the Critérium Dauphiné in June, he felt absolutely terrible climbing Col d’Aspin. “I was cooking on the climb,” he quipped. “But I committed to my decision to ride my tempo till the end.”
Strength and Strategy
Cummings showed amazing pace, but he also proved his mastery of tactics. He joined a 29-rider break which formed after 50 km of racing, and stayed with this pack for 70 km, conserving his energy and biding his time. An attack by Vincenzo Nibali on the Cat 4 Côte de Capvern, with 45 km left in the stag, prompted a response by Dani Navarro (Cofidis,) Matti Breschel (Cannondale) and Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie.)
Cummings knew he had to get away from the huge breakaway, where he had no team mates, so he set off after the three leaders. Race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Alex Howes (Cannondale) chased after Cummings, but couldn’t catch him. Cumming could and did catch the leading trio, but a large chase group including Van Avermaet was closing in fast. The Dimension data rider waited as long as possible, getting as much rest as he could by swapping pulls with the other three, then attacked them just before the chasing group caught up.
The chase group included Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali. The 2014 Tour winner had lost a lot of time in the early stages, and wasn’t really interested in contesting the overall win this year, having won the 2016 Gir d’Italia and preferring to focus on the Olympics. However, the veteran Grand Tour rider wasn’t about to turn down a chance at a stage win.
Nibali attacked as soon as he hit the base of the Col d’Aspin, shattering the chase group. Only Van Avermaet, Howes, Navarro, and Daryl Impey (Orica-BikeExchange) could hang with the Astana rider, and Van Avermaet didn’t last long. However, Nibali couldn’t sustain the pace; Navarro and Impey dropped Nibali and pushed on, but couldn’t dent Cummings’ lead.
Cummings crossed the line 1:05 ahead of the two chasers, 2:14 ahead of Nibali, and 3:04 ahead of Grag Van Avermaet in the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Van Avermaet actually extended his overall lead; none of the serious GC contenders were willing to chase him, knowing that Saturday’s and Sunday’s stages will be exponentially more difficult and decisive.
Riders’ race times were taken three kilometers from the actual finish line in Stage Seven because of a freak accident: the flamme rouge—the inflated one-kilometer-to-go arch—collapsed across the track, striking Orica-Bike Exchange rider Adam Yates and blocking the entire road.
It Gets Worse—and Still Worse
Stage Eight includes four categorized climbs: A Cat 2, two Cat 1s, and the Hors Categorie Col du Tourmalet. While this year’s Tour has been unpredictable, it is possible possible to sensibly predict that there won’t be a lot of serious battling among the main GC contenders in this stage.
The Tourmalet is the first climb of the day, so everyone will be tired afterwards and just getting more tired with each successive climb. However, the last climb, the Cat 1 Col de Peyresourdes, peaks 15 km from the finish. This means a good climber could open a gap on the final climb, only to see it erased at the line.
Stage Eight will probably be similar to Stage Seven, in that lesser-known riders will take shots all the way to the finish, creating a lot of excitement but not affecting the General Classification.
Stage Nine is even more brutal, with five categorized climbs and a mountaintop finish on the HC Arcalis ascent. This is where the big guns will start firing, testing who has the legs after eight stages of racing, trying to gain an edge, and willing to go all out ahead of the rest day on Monday. Greg Van Avermaet might possibly keep the yellow jersey until the start of Stgae Nine, but he will be handing it over by the finis.