South Africa’s golden son enjoyed his day in yellow. Serenaded with ‘Impi’, the unofficial national anthem of his home country, en route to the stage seven start and surrounded by teammates on the roads between Montpellier and Albi, Impey finished in the reduced bunch to defend his race lead and earn another day in the maillot jaune.
“The boys had the race under control,” said Sport Director Matt White. “The main objective was to keep the yellow jersey. If we saw any other opportunities, we would have gone for them, but we definitely were focused on another day in yellow. The team rode well today with that goal in mind.”
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) jumped away from the field when neutral gave way to the official stage start. He was joined down the road by Jens Voigt (RadioShack Leopard Trek), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Julien El Fares (Sojasun) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale).
“Today could have gone a few different ways,” noted White. “A big group could have gotten away from the start that was strong enough to stay away to the finish. Our guys made sure that didn’t happen. They shut down a strong six man move that went early.”
Determined to make their way up the road, Voigt and Kadri went away from the peloton shortly after their initial attempt. The peloton gave their blessing to the two rider move that gained a maximum advantage of 6’10 before the first of four categorised climbs.
Cannondale set a furious tempo over the hilliest part of the parcours, ejecting the likes of Matt Goss, André Greipel (Lotto Belisol), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) from the bunch. Their efforts were enough to overtake the leading duo.
“Cannondale assured that a sprint with the full bunch didn’t arise,” said White. “They made a very selective move on a cat two climb and drove it all the way to the finish. We made sure a break wouldn’t win the stage. They made sure we didn’t see a field sprint.”
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won the intermediate sprint from the reduced bunch that contained no threats to the points competition before Jan Bakelants (RadioShack Leopard Trek) slipped away from the field. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) bridged across to the former race leader. The trio built up a maximum advantage of 1’04, putting Bakelants into virtual yellow.
“Cannondale were really motivated to chase,” explained White. “When we got down to the flats, [Michael] Albasini did a lot of work to chip time off the break. We put Simon Clarke up there as well. When those two combined forces with Cannondale, that was the end of the breakaway.”
“With the field back together, all we had to worry about was Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) getting off the front and stealing time in that last little bit,” White added. “We weren’t the only team that didn’t want that to happen, so it was never a real worry.”
Sagan easily snagged his first stage victory of the centaury Tour ahead of John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff). Impey crossed the line in 12th place, one of 94 riders to finish on the same time as Sagan.
“We’ve kept yellow another day,” said White. “It’s another job well done by this highly motivated team.”
As the race heads to the big mountains, the Australian outfit prepares to relinquish the yellow jersey to the overall contenders.
“We’re definitely resigned to give the yellow jersey away tomorrow,” confirmed White. “It’s a big mountain stage; a stage for the general classifications guys. We haven’t got much of a gap to play with and the terrain doesn’t suit us. Tomorrow will be for guys like [Chris] Froome (Team Sky), [Cadel] Evans (BMC), and [Alberto] Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) not Gerro, Impey and Albasini.”
“Impey will go down fighting,” said White. “I wouldn’t expect anything less of him. He’ll hang on as long as he can to the front group.”