Lotto Soudal’s Andre Greipel took stage victory on stage seven of the Aviva Tour of Britain after an all-British breakaway dominated the narrative of the race’s penultimate stage.
Saturday’s stage from Fakenham to Ipswich was also the longest at 227.1 kilometres, contested over the flatlands of East Anglia. Given the terrain it was no surprise when a long break went away and its composition heartened British fans, who thus far hadn’t been able to savour a British stage win.
After an another British break of Chris Opie, Tom Stewart, Jonny McEvoy and Ali Slater was brought back, Movistar’s Alex Dowsett, Graham Briggs of JLT Condor and Great Britain Cycling Team’s Gabz Cullaigh went clear and built a lead of over eight minutes at its greatest point.
But it wasn’t all good news for British fans. The bad luck that has plagued Tao Geoghegan Hart since stage five continued, the talented Londoner caught up a crash on Wattisham airfield section of the route.
The 20-year-old, who has just been confirmed for Great Britain Cycling Team’s world championships squad, was thankfully able to re-join, suffering no more than abrasions, adding to those he sustained on the final climb of stage five.
Not so lucky were BMC Racing, who lost general classification contender Dylan Teuns and Floris Gerts, which, after the non-start of Taylor Phinney, made stage seven a day to forget for the Swiss outfit.
With 22 kilometres to go the break was reeled in, thanks in most part to the efforts of Greipel’s Lotto Soudal team. But with the catch imminent, time-trial specialist Dowsett sat up, Cullaigh and Briggs giving it a last Herculean effort and holding the lined-out peloton off for a further four kilometres before the inevitable junction was made.
The catch coincided with the final king of the mountains point of the race, Peter Williams taking maximum points and with it the polka dot jersey.
It was then that Zdenek Stybar launched a stinging attack, the Etixx-Quick Step man hoping to take a fourth victory for the team in a race of mixed fortunes which had thus far seen Petr Kavoc and Fernando Gaviria and Mark Cavendish all forced to abandon.
Thanks for all the love out there as well, much appreciated! pic.twitter.com/APvqJWs1Em— Alex Dowsett (@alexdowsett) September 12, 2015
But by 12 kilometres to go the Czech former cyclo-cross world champion’s effort was neutralised and it was evident that something extraordinary would be required to avert a bunch finish.
NFTO’s Rob Partridge countered, burying himself in an effort to steal glory from the fast-twitch men but the effort was quickly nullified.
Lotto Soudal piloted the peloton into the outskirts of Ipswich until Team Sky came through with two kilometres to go, serving the interests of double stage winner Elia Viviani.
Into the last kilometre Greipel’s outfit retook the lead, the German hitting out from the front. But Viviani exploded from Greipel’s wheel forcing a photo finish, Greipel judged the victor by a whisker. IAM Cycling’s Sondre Holst Enger took third.
Yellow jersey, MTN-Qhubeka’s Edvald Boasson Hagen took fifth to stay in yellow while Team Wiggins’ Owain Doull had another superb stage, taking sixth place to maintain his position on general classification into Sunday’s final stage in London.