Peter Sagan took the overall lead on the first day of the Three Days of La Panne on Tuesday after he won the first stage, a 201km ride from La Panne to Zottegem, Belgium.
However, the 24-year-old Slovakian, nicknamed the “Terminator,” failed in his bid to hand the stage victory to his Cannondale Pro Cycling teammate Oscar Gatto.
Sagan slowed down in the final meters to let the Italian pass him, but Gatto was not capable of doing so and Sagan took the stage instead, millimeters ahead of his teammate for his fourth win of the season.
“I eased up to allow Oscar to pass me, but that wasn’t sufficient,” Sagan said. “The essential thing is that the team won the stage in any case.”
Gatto took second, while Belgium’s Kenneth van Bilsen was third in a group of 10 riders who had broken away from the peloton on the ride into Zottegem.
Overall race favorite Niki Terpstra of the Netherlands was one of those who got away and he ended up finishing eighth.
Sagan, who won the Tour de France green points jersey last year, said he had opted to race in the Three Days of La Panne as he saw it as perfect preparation for Sunday’s one-day classic Tour des Flandres.
Some of his main rivals for Sunday’s feature race, including Swiss star Fabian Cancellara and Belgian ace Tom Boonen, decided to skip the stage race.
“This race is an excellent opportunity to test my legs,” Sagan said. “The one thing to avoid, however, is not to take ridiculous risks.”
Earlier on Tuesday the race lost one of its star attractions as top British sprint specialist Mark Cavendish announced he had pulled out due to an upset stomach.
The 28-year-old, winner of 25 stages on the Tour de France and the points jersey winner in 2011, fell ill with gastroenteritis following his fifth-placed finish in the Milan-SanRemo and also withdrew from Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.
Wednesday’s second stage sees the riders take on the 205km from Zottegem to Oostduinkerke, Belgium.