Tour set for mountains and Froome keen for separation
NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES, France (AP) After a stage decided by millimeters and sprinters, it's time to see some significant gaps between the leaders in the Tour de France.
The race heads into the mountains this weekend and yellow-jersey holder Chris Froome is looking forward to taking measure of his challengers.
''This weekend, we will see exactly where everyone's at,'' Froome said, explaining that the top 10 riders are still too close together for him to clearly identify one sole rival.
Stage 8 from Dole on Saturday finishes at the Rousses ski station in the Jura Range, close to the border with Switzerland. Three climbs on the 187.5-kilometer (116-mile) route will serve as a warm-up for the extremely tough Stage 9 in the Alps on Sunday, which has seven climbs, including three with the ''hors categorie'' or beyond rating.
The last climb on Saturday ''could shake things up a bit,'' Froome said.
''The bigger obstacles will come on Sunday. It should be a big weekend of racing. That's what we spend all season training for.''
Froome remained 12 seconds ahead of Sky teammate Geraint Thomas and 14 seconds ahead of Stage 5 winner Fabio Aru of Italy.
Dan Martin of Ireland was fourth, 25 seconds behind, and Froome's former teammate, Richie Porte, was fifth at 39 seconds back.
''Fabio Aru is certainly threatening,'' Froome said. ''But I certainly wouldn't say he's any more of a threat than Richie Porte.''
Back down in the flats on Friday, the wine-themed Stage 7 was won by Marcel Kittel in a photo finish.
The German made his move nearly too late and edged Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway by six millimeters to win his third stage of the race, and second in two days.
Kittel seemed sure he won, holding up three fingers to celebrate his three stage wins.
''It was super, super close,'' Kittel said. ''When there's a photo finish, you have your doubts. I was lucky.''
It was Kittel's 12th career win in the Tour, tying him with Erik Zabel for the German record.
Kittel clocked slightly more than five hours over the mostly flat 213.5-kilometer (132-mile) leg from Troyes in champagne country to Nuits-Saint-Georges in the heart of the Burgundy winemaking region.
Michael Matthews of Australia crossed third.
Boasson Hagen took over the leadership duties at Team Dimension Data after Mark Cavendish abandoned the race with a broken shoulder this week. World champion Peter Sagan was disqualified from the Tour for causing Cavendish's high-speed crash.
The victory helped Kittel take the green points jersey from French national champion Arnaud Demare, who finished 11th.
Kittel is aiming to wear green all the way to the finish in Paris on July 23.
Sagan won the green jersey in the past five Tours.
Froome said the stage wasn't as easy as it looked, under the searing sun. He said he drank nearly 15 bottles of water.
''Every kilometer you think about what can happen that could change the race,'' Froome said. ''If you turn left or right or if there is wind. It was a day for staying in front.''
The southeasterly route passed by the mustard capital of Dijon then concluded with a circuit through picturesque vineyards of Burgundy.
Like in the other three sprinting stages, an early breakaway - this one featuring Manuele Mori, Yohann Gene, Dylan van Baarle and Maxime Bouet - was caught shortly before the finish.
A proper attack in the mountains, as Aru showed on Wednesday, can be carried all the way to the line.