The queen stage seven at the Critérium du Dauphiné continued where yesterday’s stage six ended, and today Trek Factory Racing was prominent in the action from the very start.
Riccardo Zoidl jumped into the first breakaway that formed from the gun as he joined 13 riders that gained an immediate advantage.
With five category-one climbs ahead the leading group would go through various transformations as some riders were dropped and a large chase group containing Bauke Mollema latched on.
With two pinstripes in the breakaway group that numbered 20, the team turned around its dismal performance yesterday, and even though Mollema eventually succumbed to the troublesome back pain that has plagued him since the start, Zoidl pushed ahead to lead the race until seven kilometers remained.
Director Alain Gallopin had something to smile about today, and he praised the team’s effort: “Yesterday some guys made a big mistake and of course I showed I was not happy, but that is my job. I saw today a very nice team. When you see 20 guys in the front with two of mine…I was happy. And also Haimar [Zubeldia] showed he is back on the right track, and I am very happy to see Bauke is going much better; he will finish the Dauphiné very well. And this is good. When I saw him at the beginning of the week it was not looking so nice.”
From the breakaway group Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) was the first attack that stuck, and Zoidl responded immediately and bridged across; the two riders led the race over the final kilometers cresting the steep penultimate climb together before a few remnants of the original break caught them on the descent.
As the final seven-kilometer climb reared upward an attack from the leading quartet ended Zoidl’s courageous ride in front of the race from the first kilometer, however, with the GC battle kicking into high gear behind it was a matter of time before each leading rider was bowled over by the GC favorites.
Zoidl explained, “Yesterday I didn’t have the legs, and of course it looked bad but it was simple, I just didn’t have it. Today I was back and I was focused all week on today, and I was already there in the first move. It was very hard because at first Europcar was pulling and it was only one minute.
“I heard Bauke was coming…we had four minutes but then later when Sky was pulling it didn’t look good. But we kept fighting and after the downhill when it started going up a little bit there were some attacks and I went away with Navarro. We made it until the final climb, and I was caught with four kilometers to go. It was a hard day, but I knew I had to fight to the very end because you never know what happens. I am content, but also a little bit disappointment that we didn’t make it.”
Gallopin added, “Richey [Riccardo] showed something today. With this kind of finale - with the GC guys fighting - three minutes was not enough. I told him to watch the attacks from Navarro or Rolland, and when he went with Navarro it didn’t change anything because we saw that Froome and Tejay [van Garderen] were too strong. If they had 5, 6, 7 minutes we would have played for the win, and played differently. But even with no win we showed we exist today, and that is what I wanted.”
Zoidl summoned the last of his strength to finish the hardest stage of the race in 26th place while Bauke Mollema rode with the GC contenders until the attacks flew on the final climb.
Mollema explained that although he was feeling better at the start of today’s stage, he is not completely free of back pain:
“I felt a lot better today. Our team osteopath treated me for two hours yesterday and that help a lot. At the start of the stage, I felt really good so I jumped in the break. I feel like I have improved 50% compared to the start of this tour, but it’s not 100% okay just yet. When I get off the bike I really feel [the pain]. But the way it is improving I am confident for the Tour [de France]. We will solve this problem.”
Haimar Zubeldia also quietly rode a strong race behind, returning to his usual solid climbing form to finishing in 38th place.
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