Peter Sagan won stage seven of the 100th Tour de France in Albi today.

The Slovakian, who had finished second three times already in this Tour, tasted victory after an outstanding performance from his Cannondale team, who forced the pace of the peloton for much of the day to drop his major sprint rivals early in the stage.

The peloton chased down the last of the day's attacks - led by Jan Bakelants who took the yellow jersey after making a similar late break stick on stage two of this Tour - with 2.8km of the 205km from Montpellier remaining, and Sagan beat John Degenkolb to the line with Team Saxo-Tinkoff's Daniele Bennati third.

Darly Impey was close behind to ensure the South African retains the yellow jersey for another day.

Ireland’s Nicolas Roche finished in 33rd on today’s stage, while compatriot Dan Martin was 56th in the same time as the stage winner.

Team Saxo-Tinkoff rider Roche is ninth in the general classifications, 14 seconds behind Impey, with Garmin-Sharp’s Martin 15th, 22 seconds behind the overall leader.

Mark Cavendish was one of several sprinters - along with yesterday's winner Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, and Matt Goss - dropped on the second of four climbs on the day before giving up the chase in the final 50 kilometres.

As the race heads towards the Pyrenees this weekend, today's stage and its four categorised climbs favoured Sagan given his superior all-round ability compared to the other sprinters.

But the manner and the extent to which they were left for dead sent out a clear signal from Cannondale that Sagan intends to defend the green jersey he won last year.

"This was a show of how strong we are as a team," said Sagan, who equated his team's efforts with a 160km lead-out train.

"All of our riders were committed to one thing and everyone trusts me now and they are prepared to work hard for me because they know that I want to do well."

John Degenkolb was still there at the finish to at least give Sagan something to think about, but he was comfortably beaten into second ahead of Team Saxo-Tinkoff's Daniele Bennati.

With his rivals left down the road, Sagan took both the intermediate sprint and the win to open up a huge gap in the points classification, where he has 224 points to Greipel's 130, with Cavendish on 119.

Cannondale initially appeared to sit up after the intermediate sprint potentially giving Cavendish and company the chance to get back, but the respite did not last long.

"I had said, 'We'll pull only until we get to the intermediate sprint and then we'll take it easy...' I thought maybe another team would take over and lead through to the finish," Sagan said.

"My team-mates didn't understand why. They came to me and said, 'But we can continue to ride! Why should we sit up now and wait for the sprinters?'

"And then they went back to the front and worked very, very well."

Cavendish ended yesterday's stage in Montpellier furious after crashing late on and only managing fourth place in the sprint finish, but he was more sanguine today after crossing the line in the group 14 minutes and 53 seconds behind Sagan.

"I was dropped on the climb and there was nothing I could do," he said.

"It was difficult. But there are still a lot of sprint stages, especially the last one up the Champs Elysees."

Impey, who yesterday became the first African to wear the yellow jersey, will have it for at least one more day after crossing the line 12th, his Orica GreenEdge team having been tucked up behind Cannondale almost all the way to protect the maillot jaune.

The day began with veteran Jens Voigt, riding in his 16th Tour de France at the age of 41, part of an early break alongside Blel Kadri and they built a lead of more than four minutes to crest the first two categorised climbs of the day before being caught - with Kadri doing enough to take the King of the Mountain's polka-dot jersey from Pierre Rolland.

While Voigts took a starring role in the early part of the stage, another veteran made a premature departure with Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde, who plans to retire at the end of the season, forced to withdraw after suffering a second crash in three days.

The 37-year-old, who finished fourth overall in 2008, had already suffered a blood clot in a neck muscle and a loosened screw in his clavicle plate on stage five, and was caught in an early crash today.