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Stage win salvages Tour for Dimension Data

SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (VN) — In the hours after Mark Cavendish abandoned this year’s Tour de France with a fractured scapula — an injury he suffered in a controversial crash on stage 4 — Dimension Data’s directors sat down with the eight remaining riders to discuss the rest of the race.

Losing Cavendish was a disaster for the squad, which had built its roster around the Tour’s plethora of pan-flat stages that were perfect for the British rider’s fast finishing kick. So rather than dwell on the obvious, director Roger Hammond tried to shape the news with a positive spin.

“It was like what opportunity does this present to you guys — more freedom,” Hammond said at the finish line of stage 19. “You’re less obliged to work and we’re more potent without having to use riders to get us to the finish line.”

The team’s new “freedom” strategy paid off Friday afternoon on the streets of Salon-de-Provence. Norwegian rider Edvald Boasson Hagen sprung free from a daylong breakaway with 2km remaining and then soloed in for his third career Tour victory. Boasson Hagen finished five seconds ahead of Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), nearly 11 minutes before the peloton containing Chris Froome rumbled into town.

After the stage win, Boasson Hagen credited the team’s positive attitude for keeping his motivation high.

“It was big when we lost [Cavendish] early in the race, but everyone in the team was motivated from the beginning,” Boasson Hagen said. “We can’t just sit down and do nothing for three weeks.”

Indeed, in the days after Cavendish’s abandon, Dimension Data riders targeted the breakaways, sending multiple riders up the road each day. British champion Stephen Cummings nearly survived to the finish line in Peyregudes on stage 12. That day stretched over six categorized climbs in the Pyrénées. Serge Pauwels also attacked often. He rode into the big break on stage 15.

The team also targeted the tricky, uphill sprint stages with Boasson Hagen. He has raced as a lead-out man, a sprinter, and a classics rider throughout his career. He nearly won the stage 7 sprint into Nuits-Saint-Georges — a photo finish declared him second to Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors). Boasson Hagen was third on stage 11 into Pau, again behind Kittel, and then he nearly won stage 16‘s sprint.

“We felt like we were running out of stages,” Hammond said.

When Hammond and fellow director Rolf Aldag examined stage 19’s route, the longest stage of this year’s Tour at 222.5km, they initially saw it as a day for Cummings. But the Brit was nursing a battered body after a crash on stage 17. So instead they tapped Boasson Hagen to ride in the breakaway on the lumpy stage.

The team had a staffer drive the course three weeks before the Tour to create a video of the route. They watched it on the eve of the stage.

“We deliberated about this stage for a long time last night,” Hammond said. “We talked to Eddie and said, ‘You need to make yourself available for the win.’”

Boasson Hagen did not disappoint. He rode carefully in the breakaway over the climbs. Then he followed moves from Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) in the final 20km. As the fastest sprinter in the break, he contemplated waiting for the sprint. But when the group slowed at 2km to go, he attacked.

“To finally make a stage win is great,” he said.

Hammond called the victory “payback” for his riders.

“The guys never really lost motivation,” Hammond said. “The negative of [the crash] was so early for us but also nobody was tired, they were fresh. They were excited about the Tour de France.”

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