Saturday 15 September 2012 | Barnstaple to Dartmouth 172.9km
Report: Simon Powers | Additional reporting: Team Sky
Interview and photographs: Andy Whitehouse
British rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke retainined the gold jersey at the conclusion of stage 7 from Barnstaple to Dartmouth, this afternoon.
Tiernan-Locke, from Devon, was competing on home turf and formed part of a chasing group, who finished today’s stage almost 50 seconds down. After attacking from the peleton with 10km to go, the Endura rider managed to drop Australian Leigh Howard, who is Tiernan – Locke’s main rival for both the general classification as well as an overall Tour win.
Spain's Pablo Urtasun outgunned Dutchman Marc de Maar in the final sprint to take the stage win in Dartmouth. Urtasun was part of a four-man breakaway, which also included Euskaltel Euskadi team-mate Samuel Sanchez and Ivan Basso.
Stunning scenery and tough climbs were always going to be the order of the day as the race headed south for Dartmouth on a bright Saturday morning.
The penultimate stage got off to a frenetic start as the race left Barnstaple, early moves splitting the bunch to pieces en route to the first categorised climb of the day at South Hill.
Despite groups firing clear Howard was still able to trim three seconds off Tiernan-Locke’s lead mid-stage by claiming the first intermediate sprint of the day in Great Torrington.
Things came back together and five riders eventually went clear initially before another five joined a move including the likes of Basso, Sanchez and Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun).
Back in the peloton it was Tiernan-Locke’s Endura Racing squad on the front in a bid to defend the gold leader’s jersey, the local rider beginning the day with an advantage of 13 seconds.
Heading into the final 30km the gap began to drop but with Endura not interested in bringing the move all the way back - the 10 men holding a useful advantage of 1:34 heading into the final climbs. Team Sky hit the front in the closing stages in a bid to close the gap further but to no avail.
As soon as the road ramped upwards it was Tiernan-Locke who hit out, only a select number of riders able to follow in his wheel as he showed his form once again to move one step closer to victory.
A rider's perspective - Race leader Jonathan Tiernan-Locke
"It was fantastic today I saw the crowds lining the two big climbs over Dartmoor and I was trying to look up to see if I knew anyone but you just couldn't see anyone, I had goose pimples and just to be leading up there as well was something I'll never forget. Said Tiernan-Locke
He continued: "I think Hass( Garmin Sharp) would have to win the stage tomorrow and all of the time bonus( to take the overall) and thats not going to happen, I can only lose time in the sprints so we'll all ride for the sprints. I'm not going to get dropped on the climb, today we've shown we're up for it and we'll see if we can do it tomorrow.The team raised their game today and we only had the 4 guys who showed they were capable. It helped knowing the area today, I could tell the guys when they could rest and when they could put the pressure. I knew where the top was on the last climb and knew the last 2KM were downhill where I knew I could ease off a bit so it did help knowing the area.
Tiernan- Locke concluded: "I don't think it has sunk in how good it has been to ride in front of these crowds today. I think i'll ride the Worlds and thats my season done so I think I'll reflect on it then."
Stage 7 Results:
1 Pablo Urtasun Euskaltel Euskadi
2 Marc De Maar UnitedHealthcare
3 Ivan Basso Liquigas - Cannondale
General Classification after 7 stages:
1 Jonathan Tiernan-Locke Endura Racing
2 Nathan Haas Garmin - Sharp
3 Damiano Caruso Liquigas - Cannondale