Nielsen sprints to his first Tour stage victory in blistering style
The multi-talented Dane Magnus Cort Nielsen won a sprint on the streets of Carcassonne in convincing style yesterday to claim the first Tour de France stage of his career.
It was another calm and controlled day for Geraint Thomas, who maintained his hold on the yellow jersey and his 1min 39second advantage over fellow Team Sky rider Chris Froome.
Dan Martin crossed with the main group, taking 60th place, and remaining tenth in the general classification.
The final 10km descended into a tactical tease between eight riders from which three teams had a pair of contestants - Bahrain-Merida, Trek-Segafredo and Astana.
They came together to shut down the hangers on and sent one each up the road chasing victory, where Astana's Nielsen led Jon Izagirre and Bauka Mollema into the finish, slowing the pace heading into the final 400m before showing his sprinting prowess to win by several lengths.
It was the second successive stage win for the Kazakh team and signalled what might be to come for the impressive Nielsen.
"It's amazing, it's what I've been dreaming of since before I could ride a bike," said the 25-year-old.
"It's my first year here at the Tour. I have to thank my team a lot for believing in me and Michael (Valgren) for helping in the finish. Many days ago the team said that this was the stage for me and everything worked out perfectly."
Team Sky controlled the peloton virtually from the start in Millau, rolling under its magnificent viaduct and south towards the Pyrenees where this race will ultimately be decided next week, and it quickly split into two separate battles: a breakaway pack chasing the stage victory and the overall leaders contesting the yellow jersey 15 minutes behind them.
A group of more than 40 stragglers, which included talented French sprinter Arnaud Démare, were quickly dropped during the stage's lumpy start, while at the front a determined group of 29 riders made a breakaway stick, allowed to go because none carried much threat to yellow.
Not for the first time on this Tour, the French team Direct Energy threw a spanner in the works, this time in the shape of Lilian Calmejane who attacked on his own to break free and scale the middle of the day's three categorised climbs, the Col de Sié, solo.
From there the race headed down to the town of Mazemet and the foot of the final climb, the steep and exposed category-one Pic de More making its Tour de France debut.
Calmejane tagged out and his team-mate Fabien Grellier took over, grinding towards the summit with Trek-Segafredo's Julian Bernard on his tail, with the breakaway strung out in several pockets of chasers behind them.
As the roads steepened, the two-time king of the mountains Rafal Majka pumped his way up the Pic de Nore, past Grellier, Bernard and over the top.
Two gave chase in the howling wind: Bernard's South African team-mate Mollema, so far having a surprisingly quiet Tour, and impressively the Dane better known for his sprinting, Nielsen.
Fifteen minutes back down the hill the yellow-jersey group were seemingly content to amble home with Team Sky on the nose and in control.
However, after suffering a puncture on Saturday, Martin saw a window of opportunity. Tenth overall at the start of the day and six minutes back, Martin suddenly surged into the distance in an effort to earn back time and assuming that he posed so little threat to Team Sky they wouldn't give chase.
He was wrong, with Team Sky initially opting to hold their position, filling the roads as they narrowed to block counter-attacks and quickly smothering an attempted jab from Romain Bardet, before eventually upping the pace and sucking Martin back in - a compliment if not a material gain in minutes and seconds for the Irishman.
Up ahead Majka was reeled in on the descent into Carcassonne as seven members of the original breakaway came back together and the road flattened out.
As three emerged, Nielsen took control to claim his first Tour win in a signal of what his future might hold.
For Thomas, Froome and Team Sky, it is all about the present and making the most of the final rest day before this race's showdown in the Pyrenees.
It wasn't all good news for Team Sky however, as it was later announced their rider Gianni Moscon has been disqualified from the Tour.
The team was due to issue a statement following reports that Moscon had struck another rider early on yesterday's stage, where the official results listed Moscon as "hors course" - off the race. © Independent News Service.