Steve Cummings stormed to the second Tour de France stage win of his career on a contrasting day for British riders in the Pyrenees yesterday.
While Cummings shrugged off his rivals up the imposing Col d’Aspin to claim victory by more than a minute, Adam Yates required four stitches after a freak collision with the flamme rouge one kilometre from the finish of stage seven.
The giant inflatable banner collapsed on top of the Briton just as he was mounting a late push, resulting in a spectacular crash, but it is unlikely to affect his standing as organisers are set to record times instead from the 3km mark.
Yates said: “I cut my shoulder and my wrists and my knee is pretty banged up, so I’m devastated. I hit something then the next thing I know I’m on the floor.
“There’s not much you can do about it, but it’s a good job it’s not a sprint stage when we’re going 70 or 80kmh.”
Yates’s travails were in stark contrast to Dimension Data rider Cummings, who produced a spectacular solo performance ahead of Daryl Impey, who out-sprinted Daniel Navarro to take second place.
Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet extended his overall race lead to six minutes and 36 seconds over Julian Alaphilippe after sprinting clear of the peloton.
Cummings, a team-mate of Mark Cavendish who has already won three stages this year, said: “I’m ecstatic for the team – it’s fantastic to race with Mark who is a such a legend and it was a brilliant day.
“I managed to give it everything to the top of the Aspin and I knew the race had really finished before I got to there.
“Success breeds success and Cav’s a winner. There’s a really good atmosphere in the team – we’re all winners and we know that anyone in the team is capable of winning stages.”
Cummings, who also claimed victory in stage 14 of last year’s Tour, responded carefully when asked about British Cycling’s decision not to include him in the men’s road race team for next month’s Rio Olympics.
He added: “If I was the coach I would (pick me), but I’m not the selector. They’re the experts and they know what they’re doing so I’ll let them get on with it.”
However, it was quite a statement by Cummings, who set off solo to catch the lead group and went on to take the intermediate sprint as he forged into the lead.
The initial 10-rider chase group, including the likes of Van Avermaet and Vincenzo Nibali, soon dwindled to five as the pace set by Cummings, who crested the top of the Col d’Aspin with a minute lead, began to bite.
Navarro briefly dropped Nibali and Impey as he continued to give chase while Van Avermaet settled for sticking ahead of the peloton, which was to be further hampered by the unusual events close to the finish line.
Meanwhile, Team Dimension Data principal Doug Ryder has hailed the performance of Cavendish at the Tour de France, saying his team had already “smashed expectations” thanks to the Manxman.
Cavendish has won three of the first six stages, taking the yellow jersey with victory on the first stage to Utah Beach and following it up with success on stage three and stage six.
It represents the best start to a Tour for Cavendish, who has moved on to 29 Tour stage victories, second all-time to Eddy Merckx’s 34.
When Dimension Data signed the 31-year-old in the winter, many observers thought they were getting a sprinter whose best days were behind him, but the African team’s faith has been rewarded.
“Our goal this year was to win two stages and wear a leader’s jersey at some point,” said Ryder. “We did that in the first three days, then we won another stage. So if you talk about the Tour we’ve already smashed expectations, and now everything is a bonus.
“I feel sorry for anybody racing against us because we’ve got Steve (Cummings), Edvald (Boasson Hagen), Natnael (Berhane), Serge (Pauwels) and Daniel (Teklehaimanot) – these guys all have opportunities to do something.
“But now there is no pressure because the team has already been so successful. When you’re in that situation it just keeps coming.”