5 things about the Tour de France 7th stage
NANCY, France -- Friday's Stage 7 at the Tour de France was a day for the Italians.
Matteo Trentin won by little more than a hair's breadth in a sprint at the end of the stage, and Vincenzo Nibali kept the race leader's yellow jersey. He's worn it every day since taking it from German sprinter Marcel Kittel in the second stage.
Here's a look at the 234.5-kilometer (145.7-mile) ride from Epernay, the capital of the Champagne region, to the eastern city of Nancy. It was the second-longest stage of the year, and the last mostly flat stage before the three-week race enters the Vosges mountains for three days of up-and-down riding:
CLOSE, BUT NO ...
Peter Sagan just can't make it happen. He's finished in the top five of every stage this year, but not yet first.
The Slovakian rider, tipped to win on Friday, missed out on victory by two centimeters (about an inch) at most when Trentin pipped him at the line in a photo finish.
Even Sagan seemed to think victory might finally be his. "Will today be THE DAY?" he tweeted before the start.
Things might be looking up for him. This second-place was the closest he's managed yet. He was also second in Stages 1 and 3.
Sagan captured the green jersey for the Tour's best sprinter in the past two years and is already wearing it this week. He won three stages in 2012 and one last year.
"This is another good day for the green jersey but something extra is missing and that's a stage win," Sagan said. "However, there's still a long way away in the Tour de France and my day will come. At least I hope so."
CHINA'S FIRST COMPETITOR
Ji Cheng knows of firsts and lasts, and is taking it all in stride.
The Giant-Shimano team's "breakaway killer" -- so dubbed for his knack for leading the pack in chase of runaway riders -- is the first Chinese rider ever to compete in cycling's greatest race.
As the stage began Friday, Ji was in last place overall, but took solace in knowing that he has lent a helping hand to teammate Kittel on way to the German's three stage victories in sprints this year.
Speaking to The Associated Press in Epernay before the day's stage start, Ji said being last was "just part of the job" and chuckled at his nickname -- first affixed at the Spanish Vuelta two years ago. "I think it's the best name they gave me," he said.
In a country like China, with its untold millions of cyclists -- most of whom ride for transportation -- the sport sees promise.
The International Cycling Union has run a Tour of Beijing since 2011. Team co-sponsor Giant, a major bicycle maker, is based in Taiwan. Ji said that Chinese media are covering cycling more, and the fan response back home has been great.
"They all send me messages on Chinese weibo," he said of the hugely popular microblogs. "Every day, I get a few hundred . Some people really understand what cycling is, so when they say something, it gives you the feeling they appreciate how you did it."
And he wants to set an example to his compatriots: "I hope I can show them ... If you want to be a professional cyclist, you can be."
Chris Froome's withdrawal from the Tour two days ago has left the race wide open. Race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and two-time winner Alberto Contador of Spain are clear favorites, but outsiders like Andrew Talansky of the United States also have a shot at the yellow jersey with more than two weeks of riding left.
"It's a little different without Chris Froome," Talansky told reporters outside the Garmin-Sharp team bus before Friday's stage, and looking ahead to the Vosges mountains this weekend.
"It's still the first 10 days. People are still fresh," he said. "I think what we're going to see this weekend will be exciting, but I don't think it's necessarily indicative of what the end result in Paris is going to be."
After Friday's ride -- when he crashed in a final sprint, but didn't lose any time -- Talansky was in eighth place overall, 2:05 minutes behind Nibali.
Talansky was fuming after his crash, caused by a bump from Simon Gerrans.
"I am sorry Talansky crashed, I think he fell over my back wheel there in the final 100 meters or so," the Australian was quoted on the Orica-GreenEdge website as saying. "I think when you watch the footage there was absolutely nothing intentional about it. I don't think either of us did too much wrong."
Gerrans finished fifth. He briefly wore the Tour's yellow jersey last year, and won Tour Down Under in January.
AND ABOUT THAT INJURY ...
Defending champion Froome, back home in Monaco, announced Friday that it was official: He had two fractures from crashes sustained in the first week.
"MRIs done, confirmed fractures to the left wrist & right hand," he wrote. "Time for some R&R...."
The departure of the injured defending champion from the race in Stage 5 has been the race's biggest bombshell so far.
Eds: Trung Latieule in Paris contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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