US hopefuls down but not out at Tour's 7th stage
NANCY, France -- Two promising American riders with an outside shot at victory in the Tour de France this year hit the asphalt in crashes in Friday's seventh stage, but picked themselves up to resume the chase of overall leader Vincenzo Nibali.
The 234.5-kilometer (146-mile) ride from Epernay in Champagne country to eastern Nancy, which was won by Italian Matteo Trentin, was the latest installment of a first week of many spills in the pack, some of which led defending champion Chris Froome to pull out with an injury. That has blown the race wide open.
While relatively unscathed physically, BMC leader Tejay van Garderen took the biggest hit on Friday among the 10 or so riders who stand a reasonable chance of victory.
He was in the center of the pack with about 16 kilometers left, got bumped on his back wheel by a Movistar rider as he moved to the right. They tumbled, and then van Garderen got rolled over by another rider's bike.
He got back up, but lost more than a minute to Nibali and other contenders, even after several BMC teammates pedaled furiously to try to escort him back up to the pack.
"It's a tough blow, but the Tour is long, the race changes," van Garderen said of the time loss, and calling the crash "nothing major. So I'll definitely be fine to start tomorrow... you just have to keep the course, you just have to keep fighting."
More significant may be the withdrawal of Colombia's John Darwin Atapuma, a good climber whom BMC was grooming to help escort van Garderen in the mountains ahead. Atapuma suffered a broken leg just above the knee.
Van Garderen, from Bozeman, Montana, dropped from 11th to 18th place overall, 3 minutes, 14 behind Nibali -- after starting the stage only 2:11 adrift.
Andrew Talansky got bumped by Australia's Simon Gerrans in the final mad dash to the line. Talansky rolled over and grazed his left arm, with his jersey ripped at the shoulder.
Under course rules, Talansky didn't lose time in the title chase because his crash happened within the last three kilometers, so the Miami native remains eighth overall -- 2 minutes, 5 seconds back.
"It's not something that's going to affect him much," Garmin-Sharp team boss Jonathan Vaughters said of Talansky on French TV. "I don't know if it was Gerrans' fault, but he's angry."
Van Garderen and Talansky represent the top echelon of American cycling ambitions at the Tour in the generation after dethroned doping cheats Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong became emblems of a blighted era of drug use.
Nibali, the leader of the strong Kazakh team Astana, captured and has held the lead through a combination of savvy riding, calm and power on the English hills in Stage 2 -- which he won. His lead is solid but not insurmountable with the biggest days of climbs in the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees still to come.
Stage winner Trentin beat Slovakia's Peter Sagan by no more than an inch. The finish was so close that the Tour's website initially declared Sagan the winner.
Sagan, who claimed the green jersey given to the Tour's best overall sprinter for the past two years, has finished in the top-5 of every stage this year -- and second three times -- but has yet to win. France's Tony Gallopin was third.
"Honestly I didn't know that I won. I told Peter that he had beaten me on the line," Trentin said.
Trentin dedicated the victory to his Omega Pharma Quick Step team and its star sprinter Mark Cavendish, who crashed out in Stage 1.
Also falling in the finish-line crash, Swiss rider Mathias Frank, the leader of the IAM Cycling team, was undergoing a medical scan at hospital for a severely injured hip, the race medical report said. In an earlier crash, Dutch rider Stef Clement dropped out of the race and was taken to hospital after a blow to the head.
"There have really been a lot of crashes this year, in the final sprints," Nibali said. "We all knew that Sagan wanted a win today ... The end of the stage was very hard."
In a possible preview of race action to come, Alberto Contador led a small attack along a low-grade climb with about 6-kilometers left, but he couldn't shake Nibali. The Italian says he expects the Spanish two-time champ to attack in the mountains ahead starting this weekend, culminating with a tough uphill finish on Monday.
A shakeout among title contenders could be ahead in Saturday's eighth stage, which winds through medium-height mountains along a 161-kilometer (100-mile) run from Tomblaine to Gerardmer-La Mauselaine ski resort.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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