Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen beat favorites Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan in a sprint to win the longest stage of the Tour de France on Friday.
Four-time champion Chris Froome and the other favorites finished safely in the main pack on Stage 7, which — unlike earlier sprinting legs — was without serious crashes.
Greg Van Avermaet held on to the yellow jersey he grabbed in Stage 3 and doubled his lead over Geraint Thomas to six seconds by winning an intermediate bonus sprint.
Froome is 14th, 1:05 behind Van Avermaet.
Gaviria and Sagan have each won two stages in this year’s Tour and were marking each other when Groenewegen surprised both and surged ahead on the final straight.
It was the second victory in the race for Groenewegen, who also won a sprint in last year’s concluding stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
“The first days were not good enough, the legs were not good. Today the legs were good and everything was OK,” Groenewegen said. “With 200 meters to go, I saw the gap and I was going to the finish line.”
After crossing the line, Groenewegen placed his finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. “People said I was not good enough after the first sprints but that’s not true,” he said.
The Dutch cyclist, who rides for Team Lotto NL-Jumbo, clocked nearly six hours over the 143.5-mile trek from Fougeres, home to the best-preserved and largest medieval fortress in Europe, to Chartres, site of a vast cathedral known for its stained-glass windows.
Gaviria crossed second and Sagan was third after an almost entirely flat route.
“I’m happy with that,” Sagan said. “I had no legs to beat the first two guys.”
After a few early attacks failed, Yoann Offredo launched a solo effort about 22 miles in. The French rider with the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team established an advantage of more than eight minutes — the biggest breakaway lead in this year’s Tour — before being caught by the pack with about 56 miles to go.
Laurent Pichon, another French rider with Fortuneo-Samsic, then also got away alone for a spell. But, in the end, it came down to a bunch sprint as expected.
Stage 8 on Saturday covers a slightly more challenging terrain over approximately 112 miles from Dreux to Amiens but again should set up well for sprinters.
The overall favorites should be tested again in the cobblestoned Stage 9 on Sunday to Roubaix, before heading down to the Alps next week.