This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Pablo Urtasun (Eukaltel Euskadi) won stage 7 of the Tour of Britain, which ran from Barnstable (on the north coast of Devon) to Dartmouth (on the south coast of Devon). Second place, in a four-up sprint, went to Marc De Maar (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) with Ivan Basso (Liquigas Cannondale) taking third. The gold leader's jersey stayed on the shoulders of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing), while the demanding stage saw Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) relegated from second to fourth overall and Nathan Haas (Garmin Sharp) jumping one place to take the runner up spot. Damiano Caruso (Liquigas Cannondale) now holds third place overall.
If there were ever a perfect bike race in Britain, then today's stage was probably it: balmy September sunshine, stunning scenery and huge crowds which many of the 85 starters happily compared to the Tour de France. Add to that some seriously aggressive riding with names like Samuel Sanchez and Ivan Basso and voila! With the public still giddy from the success of Bradley Wiggins, there was extra reason for them to cheer today as the race leader, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, is not only British but also lives just down the road in Plymouth in Devon.
Although JTL, as he is known, was not in the day-long break out of which the Spanish rider, Pablo Urtasun took the win, he actually increased his lead from yesterday by five seconds to 18 today over second placed Haas.
Shortly after the start in Barnstable after a number of minor skirmishes, a break of 10 riders found some cohesion, the remnants of which battled on to contest the sprint in Dartmouth. The riders were: Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling), Ivan Basso (Liquigas Cannondale), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel Euskadi), Jan Barta (Team NetApp), Nikita Novikov (Vacansoleil DCM), Bernard Sulzberger (Team Raleigh GAC), Ronan McLaughlin (An Post Sean Kelly), Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4-Giordana Racing).
Despite the chasing bunch, led for much of the time by Tiernan-Locke's Endura teammates, the break stayed clear thanks to a high tempo on the climbs by Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi).
The Spaniard's efforts were not in vain as he was awarded the most aggressive rider award of a large round of cheese! A smiling Sanchez said later, "Today the stage was very, very hard and I am training for the Worlds so my job in this stage is for my teammate. He won the stage, and I am very, very happy for him. He is my friend, in another race he has worked for me and today I worked for him. The Tour is incredible. More people, beautiful mountains. I live in the north of Spain and it is very similar to England."
As the race crossed the beautiful but testing Dartmoor the lead of the breakaway yo-yoed and a one point was over four minutes but by the time the race finished the times were much closer as riders crossed the line in small groups. Stage winner Urtasun said after the race,
"We spoke about halfway through the race that Sanchez would do everything possible to get a victory for me. So in the last 10km he did all the work possible and finally it paid off with a victory.
"I came here with the intention of trying to win a stage. On the first day, when I got all those (KoM) points I wasn't really aiming for it. It is much more important to win a stage. When I went over today in first position [at the KOM] I wasn't really sprinting for it as Kristian [House] has got enough points and tomorrow I think my legs will be too tired to keep fighting for it.’
Asked who he was most worried about on today's 173-kilometre stage he replied, "Marc de Maar was going well, but I had Sanchez with me and we were working really well. We worked together and although it was a bit of a difficult descent we pulled it off."
The local boy and race leader Tiernan-Locke spoke at the press conference about what was clearly an emotional day, "It was fantastic today. What we saw over the two main climbs in Dartmoor; the crowds up there. I was trying to look out for people I knew but you couldn't, it was a wall of sound and people. It was amazing. I had goose-bumps riding up there, and just to be leading. Yeah, I won't forget that.’"
Going into tomorrow’s final stage as race leader, Tiernan-Locke said, "There are not enough time bonuses on the road, well technically there is, but I think Haas would have to take them all and win the stage which I don't think will happen so I can't lose it that way. I just got to not lose time on the sprints so we'll have to ride for the sprints and there will be other teams interested in that and I am not going to get dropped on the climbs. We showed we were up to it today and I am sure we'll be up to it tomorrow."
If Jonathan Tiernan-Locke holds onto his overall lead when the race finishes tomorrow in Guildford, he will become the first British winner of the Tour of Britain. "It hasn't really sunk in yet to be honest. I think I will ride the Worlds and then that's my season done so I will reflect on it a bit then. When it's over, then I will think about it."