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LAC DE PAYOLLE, France (VN) — The Tour de France is making history in the 2016 edition, which for the first time has a full peloton without one abandon deep into the race. Thanks to a relatively incident-free edition, the race reached the seventh stage finish Friday in the Pyrenees with all 198 riders.
In the previous 102 Tours, at least one had left by the sixth stage. Thursday, this year’s race made history and Friday it continued to do so. Michael Morkov (Katusha) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18), among the crash victims so far in the Tour, pushed through the stage over the Col d’Aspin to the finish along the Lac de Payolle. Morkov, who took a “big hit to his leg” in stage 1, finished last at five minutes behind the gruppetto of sprinters with Bennett, but he finished nonetheless.
“I’ll be getting better day by day,” Bennett said. “After the rest day Monday, I’m hoping my body will return to normal.
“These three days are going to be the hardest for me. I’ll try not to be the first guy to break. It’s cool everyone is still here, I don’t want to be the first guy to go.”
This year’s race has lacked the mass crashes that typically mark the first week as the sprinters and general classification hopefuls struggle for position before the peloton established its hierarchy.
Last year, a huge pile up in Belgium in stage 3 sent Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) flying in the yellow jersey. Tour Director Christian Prudhomme brought the race to a stop such was the severity. Cancellara finished the stage with the others, but pulled out overnight.
Similar incidents struck the peloton when it began in Yorkshire in 2014 and in Corsica in 2015.
“You have less road furniture and stuff compared to Holland,” Bennett added. “It was absolutely amazing last year from the start in Utrecht, but with the amount of crowds on the roadside, it just drains you. This year it is just a bit safer. It makes it safer when there is not as many.”
The cycling gods appear to have blessed the 198 starters. Only three major incidents stick out after 1400 kilometers of racing: the sprint crash with Morkov, Bennett, and Geraint Thomas (Sky) on day one, and the two falls Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) took in the opening two days.
“I’m still felling my ribs a bit,” said Thomas who is working for two-time winner Chris Froome. “I’m getting better every day.”
“Today I had to be extremely conservative, something that is completely atypical to my style of racing,” Contador said Friday.
“However, today was a simple appetizer to what will take place tomorrow. The goal now is to recover and tackle these two days on the Pyrenees, with our sights set on the rest of the Tour.”
Though it would be welcomed, odds are against the group remaining at 100% for much longer. Abandons, or perhaps incidents, are likely to take their toll as the race rolls through the Pyrenees this weekend in southwest France.