Peter Sagan of Slovakia won the second stage of his debut Tour de France on Tuesday as the race returned home, while Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland remained the overall leader for a fourth straight day.
The cyclists, who opened in Belgium, completed a crash-marred 197km ride from Orchies that featured five small climbs to an uphill finish in the fishing port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Sagan, aged 22 and one of cycling’s brightest stars, won the third stage by bolting from the splintered peloton with fewer than 300m left. He crossed the line several lengths — and one second — ahead of runner-up Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway and third-placed Peter Velits of Slovakia.
Sagan enjoys putting on a show for fans. He churned his arms, as a runner might, in a nod to the title character in the movie Forrest Gump as he crossed the line.
“It’s a thing I’d discussed with my teammates, about what kind of gesture I’d do on the line,” Sagan said of his Liquigas-Cannondale squad, “Everybody said: ‘Do a Forrest Gump’ because when he was told to run, he ran, and when I’m told to win, I win.”
Sagan also showed a humbler side, saying he felt honored to ride alongside complete riders such as Vincenzo Nibali and two-time Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso on the Italian squad.
“With Basso, I feel like I’m on the level of someone who would shine his shoes,” Sagan said.
Some race watchers simply marveled at the skill and promise of the young Slovakian, who with his Stage 1 victory on Sunday became the youngest rider to win a Tour stage since Lance Armstrong in 1993 — at age 21.
“You’ve gotta give Sagan credit for the way he’s riding at the minute. When you see something like that you just have to stand back and admire it, and smile and say well done,” Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said.
“It’s a bit like watching Messi playing football or something isn’t it?” he said, referring to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. “He’s winning with such apparent ease at the moment that it’s pretty phenomenal.”
After a time-trial prologue won by Cancellara and a generally flat first few stages, the race is as open as ever. Cancellara has 43 riders within a minute of his overall time, but that is likely to change when the peloton heads to the Alps in the second week and the Pyrenees in the third, if not sooner.
Tuesday’s ride marked the first crash-related withdrawals from the 99th Tour, which ends on July 22 on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Overall, Cancellara leads Bradley Wiggins, who is hoping to become Britain’s first Tour winner, in second and Sylvain Chavanel of France in third — both seven seconds back. Defending champion Cadel Evans climbed one spot to seventh place, 17 seconds behind, while Sagan was 15th, another six seconds slower.
The Swiss leader and the expected Tour title hopefuls trailed Sagan in a 45-rider group that crossed one second behind the Slovakian star — leaving the top standings little changed.
Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert, who last year had 18 victories in all competitions and was the top-ranked rider in the UCI’s standings, went tumbling after getting hit from behind. He clambered back onto his bike with scrapes on his left leg and arm, and kept going, but lost more time to change a shoe damaged in the crash, BMC team manager John Lelangue said.
Gilbert straggled across the finish line 7 minutes, 46 seconds after Sagan, plunging to 104th place overall. The Belgian began the day in seventh place, 13 seconds behind Cancellara. Gilbert’s slide meant Evans rose a notch.