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Chartres, France (AFP) – Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen burst past Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria to seal a first win in this Tour de France on Friday, saying he'd refound his confidence, speed and pride at the end of a 231km seventh stage from Fougeres to Chartres.
The Lotto NL-Jumbo rider, who won the final stage to Paris last year, had by his own admission suffered a disappointing start to the 2018 Tour before his show of power to beat Gaviria into second and Peter Sagan into third.
"People had been saying I was not good enough to win a stage on this Tour, so I put my finger to my lips to tell them to shut up," said Groenewegen, explaining his gesture at the finish line.
"I had started wondering myself, thinking 'shit, am I good enough,' so this win feels really good after six days waiting.
"I was pretty disappointing in the first few stages but now I've got the power back in my legs.
"This win was fantastic for my self confidence, I feel under less pressure now, a sprinter needs confidence.
"I'll be trying to win again tomorrow now!"
I was bored
World champion road racer Sagan said he'd been happy enough to stay on Gaviria's wheel and keep ahead in the green points jersey race.
He has 234 points to the 23-year-old Gaviria's 203.
"I had a good day," said the Slovak, who has, like Gaviria, two stage wins so far.
"Third is okay, if I win what do I get except an extra point or two? I'm after the green jersey and look, I'm wearing it."
"It was a boring stage, no wind, no stress just boring, I was talking to everybody," he said.
Belgian Greg Van Avermaet retained the leader's yellow jersey ahead of Saturday's eighth stage and said he hopes to go to the mountains with it next week after what he described as a relaxing day.
"It was nice to relax because over this first week we have had very little chance to do that, believe me," said the BMC man.
"If tomorrow is like that and all goes well on the cobbles on Sunday, it would be great to go into the rest day with the yellow," said Van Avermaet, who will be helping GC contender Richie Porte to keep out of trouble on the Roubaix stage.
French duo Arnaud Demare and Christophe Laporte were fourth and fifth respectively as the home nation were left empty-handed for the seventh day in succession.
With a notoriously difficult 90 degree bend with 2km to go and speeds hitting 60 km/h, tensions were high over the closing kilometres as the sprinters' teams jockeyed for position.
But the peloton slowed and hostilities began with a 'faux plat' incline to the final 150m, with Sagan's Bora, Gaviria's Quick-Step and the winner's Lotto outfit prominent into the final stretch.
The peloton set off amid good racing conditions for the longest stage on the race, with a finish line opposite the 800-year-old cathedral of Chartres, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Around 95km from Chartres the peloton split in a cross wind, trapping Thursday's stage winner Dan Martin (Team Emirates) in the second group.
The Irishman was swift to react, leading his team across the breach within a couple of kilometres.
The lone survivor of a long-range breakaway, Yoann Offredo (Wanty), was reeled in with 38km remaining, alerting a nervous peloton to further breaches caused by crosswinds on the open plains.