By Julien Pretot
ALBI, France | Fri Jul 5, 2013 5:53pm BST
(Reuters) – Peter Sagan thrashed his rivals in the fight for the green jersey when he won the seventh stage of the Tour de France after a fine tactical move by his Cannondale team on Friday.
Sagan outsprinted German John Degenkolb and Italian Daniele Bennati at the end of a 205.5-km ride from Montpellier to move 94 points clear in the points classification.
Rivals Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel scored no points on the day after being dropped following a brutal acceleration by Cannondale on a tricky climb and finishing almost 15 minutes behind Sagan.
“I read critics on the internet saying I did not have a lead-out train like Cavendish or Greipel,” Sagan told a news conference.
“But today I benefited from a 160-km lead-out train. The original idea was to win the intermediate sprint but my team mates came up to me and said we should insist because the sprinters were dropped,” he said. “I told them: If you can, why not?”
Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol teams joined forces to catch the leading group but it was in vain.
South African Daryl Impey retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey, which he will probably lose after Saturday’s first mountain stage, a 195-km trek between Castres and Ax-3-Domaines.
“We came out here today to protect the jersey and we have done that,” Impey said of his Orica-GreenEdge team in a television interview.
Pre-race favourites Alberto Contador and Chris Froome made it safely to the finish but American Christian Vande Velde abandoned after being involved in a huge crash after 11 kilometres.
Colombian climber Nairo Quintana and Spain’s Dani Moreno were also involved but made it to the finish with the leading group.
Sagan timed his effort to perfection in the home straight as Degenkolb bolted with 50 metres left.
He now has 224 points in the points classification while Greipel has 130 and Cavendish 119. The Slovakian rider will likely grab more points in the mountains, where most of his rivals will be happy with just surviving.
“I got more points than I thought but the Tour has only just started, there are still 14 stages left,” said Sagan, who had no special celebration this time after doing an impersonation of film character Forrest Gump when he crossed the line in a stage win last year.
“I just wanted to pay tribute to my team mates who worked very hard. I just showed the team’s name on my jersey.”
Sagan will now have to defend the green jersey he won last year.
“It’s hard to set up a strategy now. Right now I’m taking it day by day but why not get into a breakaway one day and get some more points, winning in a different fashion?” he said.
Cavendish, however, is confident there will be happier days in this Tour.
“There are still a lot of sprint stages, like the one on the Champs-Elysees,” he said.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)