Tour de France: Yates in yellow, Sagan attacking on Stage 7

Other rivals to Sagan in the trailing group included 11-time stage winner Andre Greipel and Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, who won Stage 4 in 2019.

Britain's Adam Yates, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey rides with Slovakia's Peter Sagan, (L) and France's Thibaut Pinot during the seventh stage of the Tour de France.   -  AP

Stage 7 of the Tour de France started on Friday with British rider Adam Yates wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey and the team of three-time world champion Peter Sagan causing havoc by setting a furious pace at the start of the 168-kilometre (104-mile) route into southwest France.

The sustained burst of speed by Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe teammates from the get-go had the desired effect of quickly dropping a host of riders who could compete against him if the stage finishes in a bunch sprint at the end in Lavaur.

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Among those who dropped off the back of the pack as Bora piled on pressure at the front on the first of three modest climbs after the start in Millau were sprinters Alexander Kristoff, the winner of Stage 1, and Caleb Ewan, who won Stage 3.

Other rivals to Sagan in the trailing group included 11-time stage winner Andre Greipel and Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, who won Stage 4 at last year’s Tour.

After the first hour of racing, their group of 40 dropped riders had already fallen some three minutes behind Sagan’s bunch at the front, increasing his chances of claiming the stage victory.

Another dropped bunch of about 30 riders, caught between the groups at the back and the front, included Sam Bennett. He started the stage wearing the green jersey awarded to riders who pick up the most points in the Tour’s sprints. Sagan has already won that points competition at seven previous Tours and is eyeing it again at this edition.

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Sagan’s lead bunch of about 100 riders included Yates and other top contenders who are chasing overall victory, including defending champion Egan Bernal and his main rival Primoz Roglic.

Bora’s thrilling surprise attack on Friday’s opening climb, the Cote de Luzencon, followed two stages with limited action.

Top contenders have largely been trying so far to save their energies, waiting for arduous climbs this coming weekend in the Pyrenees and the very tough final week before Paris.

Marc Madiot, general manager of the French Groupama-FDJ team, said before the start Friday that the coronavirus pandemic is part of the reason that this Tour so far hasn’t matched last year’s edition for thrills.

"To those who are watching the Tour de France and think it’s a show, I say that first and foremost that it’s a sporting event and in a sports events there are highs and lows. If they want spectacle, they can watch a TV reality show and perhaps be less disappointed,” he said.

"This is an exceptional year. We had an extremely long lockdown, where people were confined at home. We resumed training and rejigged training and competition schedules,” he added.

“The riders came here with some 10 days of competition under their belts, which is three times less than normal. Usually, we get to the Tour de France with 35 to 40 days of racing."

The race finishes on September 20 in Paris.