Ahead of last Tour fight, Boasson Hagen's homework pays off
By JOHN LEICESTER
SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (AP) Edvald Boasson Hagen showed that brawn and speed don't guarantee victory at the Tour de France. Winners do their homework, too.
Going right around a roundabout while others took the left and longer route proved to be the key that enabled the Norwegian to finally win a stage at this Tour on Friday after two second-place finishes.
Only Boasson Hagen and Nikias Arndt took the shorter route. The Norwegian then eliminated the German rider with a burst of acceleration and sped to the line in Salon-de Provence.
Arndt placed second, five seconds back.
Third-placed Jens Keukeleire was among those who went left around the roundabout in the last three kilometers (under two miles) and immediately realized their mistake, as Boasson Hagen motored away.
"That's when it struck me: We should have taken right," Keukeleire said. "He's one of those riders, give him 10 meters and he's gone."
It was Boasson Hagen's third career stage win at the Tour, after his first two in 2011. He said he'd studied the finish and identified the short cut.
"I was hunting for opportunities, and then the roundabout arrived," he said. "I understood that going right would be quicker."
Riding at a leisurely pace far behind them, race leader Chris Froome and other top contenders for the yellow jersey were happy to let others contest the victory on the Tour's longest stage.
Boasson Hagen was part of a 20-man group that Froome and Team Sky gave freedom to escape from the peloton because none of them presented a threat to his overall lead. After two energy-sapping days of climbs in the high Alps, Froome and his rivals had their sights set instead on the time trial on Saturday in Marseille that will determine the podium order before the race ends in Paris on Sunday.
Froome's group was still riding as Boasson Hagen celebrated his win. The peloton eventually rolled in more than 12 minutes after Boasson Hagen claimed the first stage win for the Dimension Data team at this tour.
The overall standings remained unchanged at the top, with Froome leading French rider Romain Bardet by 23 seconds and Rigoberto Uran of Colombia by 29 seconds.
With no major difficulties, the 222.5-kilometer (138-mile) stage from Embrun in the Alps offered no real opportunity for Froome's rivals to claw back time. Instead, they and Froome let the 20 breakaway riders do the hard graft.
"We could just sit on the wheels and recover a little bit," Froome said. "Everyone was quite happy to sit back."
The breakaway group split again with 20 kilometers (12 miles) left. Boasson Hagen was among nine riders who ditched the others with a furious burst, leaving him in the right group to contest the stage victory. But among that leading nine, everyone but Arndt and Boasson Hagen then went left around the roundabout, essentially eliminating themselves from the running.
On Stage 7, Boasson Hagen lost to Marcel Kittel by mere millimeters in a photo finish at Nuits-Saint-Georges. He was also second on Stage 16 and third on Stages 11 and 14.
"I didn't have to do a photo finish this time," he said. "I finally got my victory."
The 22.5 kilometer (14-mile) time-trial course is the last significant obstacle between Froome and his fourth Tour victory. He needs to hold only Bardet and Uran at bay. They could be tempted into taking greater risks to make up time on the course with more than two dozen bends and a short but very sharp uphill to the Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral, Marseille's most famous landmark. The start and finish are both at the Stade Velodrome, home to the Olympique de Marseille football club.
Getting safely through the race against the clock, a discipline the double Olympic bronze medalist excels in, will allow Froome to savor the traditional processional ride into Paris on Sunday.
"I'm not going to go out there and take any big risks," he said. "I'm obviously in a fantastic position now and I'd much rather be in this position than the position of second or third or fourth and having to try and make up time on someone else. So that gives me a lot of confidence."
Updated July 21, 2017