British success during the opening week of the 2016 Tour de France continued unabated into the Pyrenees on Friday (8 July) as Steve Cummings claimed a remarkable solo victory on stage seven from L'Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle. Having seen fellow Team Dimension Data rider Mark Cavendish triumph on three of the first six days to move within five wins of Eddy Merckx's all-time record, the 35-year-old formed part of a mass leading group of nearly 30 after several attacks before charging down the three-man escape of Matti Breschel, Antoine Duchesne and Daniel Navarro.
He increased his lead while ascending the first category one climb of the race up the Col d'Aspin mountain pass, repelling the challenge of Vincenzo Nibali and staying clear of the likes of Navarro and Daryl Impey. The Merseysider, who left it late to win stage 14 in Mende last year and also achieved one victory during the 2012 Vuelta a Espana, was then left with a clear and mostly downhill run to the finish line.
"Of all my victories, I think it's the best one," Cummings was quoted as saying by The Telegraph. "The Tour is the Tour, it's special. I didn't need to win a stage this year. I had a different condition from last year as I started the Tour riding for Mark [Cavendish], who is such a winner and an inspiration.
"It's brilliant, it's fantastic. I wasn't confident in that group with Nibali and Navarro. The idea was that Navarro will cook himself before the climb, so I put pressure on Astana to chase behind. I felt if I can get in front with a smaller number of riders, I'd have more chances of winning. I cooked myself actually. I think I was riding on the flat quite a lot. Then a 5 to 6% climb like Col d'Aspin is good for my characteristics, so I just carried on and I won."
Cummings has also won stages at the Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Criterium du Dauphine this year, but was not included in Great Britain's road team for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month. He later criticised British Cycling and called for coach Rod Ellingworth to be replaced due to an apparent conflict of interest.
Amazingly, all 198 riders started stage seven but there was a ridiculous incident towards the finish when the inflatable flamme rouge collapsed, blocking the route and causing carnage in the peloton. Orica–BikeExchange's Adam Yates was the first to be caught up in the trouble and received stitches to a gash on his chin after being knocked off his bike. Race organisers later confirmed that they would take the finish times from the 3km point to ensure that those involved did not lose out.
Stage five winner Greg van Avermaet remains in the yellow jersey after a fifth-place finish saw him increase his lead atop of the general classification to six minutes and 36 seconds over Julian Alaphilippe. Alejando Valverde is two seconds further back in third, with Joaquim Rodriguez fourth and Chris Froome in fifth. The latter ducked under the falling one-kilometre marker to finish 11th on the day, behind Team Sky teammates Geraint Thomas and Wout Poels. Nairo Quintana remains sixth.
With the first rest day in Andorra not until Monday (11 July), Le Tour continues in the mountains this weekend. Stage eight is a very tough 184km battle from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon featuring four tricky climbs.