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3:48 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

A ‘transfer’ stage: Time to relax on longest leg of Tour de France

Tour de France

Peter Sagan, center, rides in the pack during the Tour de France Friday, July 13, 2018. (Christophe Ena/AP)

Peter Sagan, center, rides in the pack during the Tour de France Friday, July 13, 2018. (Christophe Ena/AP)

CHARTRES, France — Peter Sagan thrust his arm and fist forward like Superman.

Chris Froome calmly dropped back to his team car to get his seat adjusted by a mechanic.

Other riders chatted as they admired the rolling countryside.

With nearly six hours in the saddle and hardly any action until the finale, there was plenty of time to relax and fool around during the longest stage of the Tour de France on Friday.

"Boring stage," said Sagan, the three-time reigning world champion. "You're happy it was a sunny day, no wind, without stress. But it was boring.

"I talked to everyone," Sagan said when asked how he passed the time after finishing third in the mass sprint which, with its uphill finish, suited him.

"I'm happy with that," he said. "I had no legs to beat the first two guys."

Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen won the stage ahead of Fernando Gaviria, who like Sagan has also won two stages in this year's Tour.

Four-time champion Froome and the other favorites finished safely in the main pack on Stage 7, which — unlike earlier sprinting legs — was without serious crashes.

Greg Van Avermaet held on to the yellow jersey he grabbed on Stage 3 and doubled his lead over Geraint Thomas to six seconds by winning an intermediate bonus sprint.

Froome is 14th, 1:05 behind Van Avermaet.

Gaviria and Sagan were marking each other when Groenewegen surprised both and surged ahead on the final straight.

It was the second victory in the race for Groenewegen, who also won a sprint in last year's concluding stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

"The first days were not good enough, the legs were not good. Today the legs were good and everything was OK," said Groenewegen, who rides for Team Lotto NL-Jumbo. "With 200 meters (yards) to go I saw the gap and I was going to the finish line."

After crossing the line, Groenewegen placed his finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. "People said I was not good enough after the first sprints but that's not true," he said.

The 231-kilometer (143.5-mile) trek from Fougeres, home to the best-preserved and largest medieval fortress in Europe, concluded in Chartres, site of a vast cathedral known for its stained-glass windows.

Days like these are referred to as "transfer" stages, for moving the Tour from one area to the next — from Brittany to north-central France in this case, as the race winds toward Sunday's highly awaited cobblestoned leg to Roubaix near the Belgian border.

"It was quite long — 230k. You can ask the question, is this really necessary in a Grand Tour?" Van Avermaet said. "But everyone kind of enjoyed it — the first day we could really relax."

After a few early attacks failed, Yoann Offredo launched a solo effort 35 kilometers in. The French rider with the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team established an advantage of more than eight minutes — the biggest breakaway lead in this year's Tour — before being caught by the pack with 90 kilometers to go.

Laurent Pichon, another French rider with Fortuneo-Samsic, then also got away alone for a spell. But, in the end, it came down to a bunch sprint as expected.

Stage 8 on Saturday covers a slightly more challenging terrain over 181 kilometers from Dreux to Amiens but again should set up well for sprinters.

The overall favorites should be tested again in Roubaix, before heading down to the Alps next week.