Strangely, Peter Sagan did not celebrate his first Tour de France maillot jaune with his trademark wheelie.
He did not even pump his fist or raise his arms as he crossed the finish line on Sunday to end a three-year winless run at cycling’s showpiece race.
That was not because of the misfortune endured by his teammate Alberto Contador, who fell off his bike for the second consecutive day and lost precious time in the battle among the race favorites. The world champion simply did not know he had won the stage.
“I’m very surprised I won, because I was thinking there were still two guys in front,” said Sagan, who made the most of a steep, short climb in a frenzied finale to win the second stage of the Tour in Normandy.
It was Sagan’s fifth stage win on a Tour and his first since 2013.
Having been criticized sometimes for poor tactics — he has been a runner-up in 16 Tour stages — Sagan used his raw power on the 1.9km Cote de la Glacerie leading to the finish line to claim the win.
He waited patiently in the wake of Julian Alaphilippe, who started the final sprint, before timing his acceleration to perfection to overtake the Frenchman and win by a bike’s length.
A debutant at the Tour, Alaphilippe of Etixx-QuickStep was second in the 183km stage between Saint-Lo and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of Movistar in third place.
Sagan, who already has four maillot vert to his name and won the Tour of Flanders classic earlier this season, also claimed the lead in the points standings.
“In big races, experience counts,” Sagan said. “I did a lot of sacrifices to come to the Tour de France in good form, but it’s never easy to win, even if it looks easy sometimes.”
On a day of mixed fortunes for the Tinkoff team, Contador crashed again and was dropped on the final climb, losing 48 seconds.
“I’m physically hampered,” Contador said. “I cannot pedal as I would as the result of the crashes. The important thing is to keep my morale, not fall apart, which is sometimes complicated. Both legs are very roughed up.”
After just two days of racing, the Tour has already been marred by several crashes, a problem that Sagan attributed to an all-risk approach in the peloton.
“Nobody cares, it looks like riders have lost their brains,” he said. “When I started in cycling in 2010 there was respect and when somebody was doing something stupid we would throw bottles at him. Today nobody brakes. So I’m in yellow, but tomorrow I can go home.”
Belgium’s Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo, who was part of an early breakaway group that formed after the start of the stage, almost thwarted Sagan’s plans when he tried to go for a solo win, but was reined in with 500m remaining. Overnight leader Mark Cavendish of Team Dimension Data finished just behind BMC Racing joint leader Richie Porte, who was among the big losers of day, crossing the finish line 1 minute, 45 seconds behind Sagan after a puncture.
A crash split the peloton in two after 60km. Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha and Contador, who suffered cuts and bruises on his right shoulder in a crash during stage 1, were among the riders caught up in the incident.
Contador fell on the same shoulder and was forced to change bike. He was helped back into the peloton by five Tinkoff teammates as the pace slowed down at the front.
The pace in the peloton barely moved until 55km to go when Dimension Data started to push forward. The peloton’s chase of the breakaway started a bit late and Stuyven almost upset all the favorites.
“I felt a little bit empty on the steep part,” said Stuyven, who made his breakthrough last year when he won a stage at the Vuelta a Espana. “Unfortunately, I was 450 meters short.”
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