Slovakia’s Peter Sagan on Wednesday clinched his second stage victory of this year’s Tour de France, defeating Sonny Colbrelli and Philippe Gilbert on the uphill finish of stage five.
Defending champion Chris Froome of Team Sky and the other overall contenders finished in or close to the main group as overnight leader and Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet of BMC Racing Team retained the yellow jersey.
Belgian Philippe Gilbert sparked the hostilities early on the uphill finish of the 204.5km ride from Lorient, but the Quick-Step Floors rider failed to open up a significant gap on the chasing bunch.
Van Avermaet then pulled to the front in a bid for the stage win as the finish line approached, but peaked too early.
The race leader was left powerless when Sagan sped past on his left.
Colbrelli pushed the Slovakian all the way, but, as he did on stage two, finished second-best.
Sagan said following the yellow jersey had helped land him the stage.
“I’d like to thank Greg [van Avermaet], because he did me a favor when he went for it. I don’t know if he did it on purpose, but he dropped a lot of people,” said Sagan, who has tightened his grip on the points classification’s green jersey.
Asked if it would be a battle all the way to Paris with Fernando Gaviria for the green jersey, Sagan said: “I hope not.”
The pair have two stage wins each from the first five and Sagan had on Tuesday said that the Colombian might struggle with the climbs.
“The fact he wasn’t in the sprint was good for me,” said Sagan, who now leads Gaviria by 33 points.
Despite a spectator-friendly slug up the final hill, race designer Thierry Gouvenou said that he had expected more fireworks.
“I’m not sure the riders knew how to take advantage of it, the stage really could have been much more interesting,” Gouvenou said of the course some have described as riddled with traps.
With five categorized climbs to be negotiated over the narrow, tree-lined Brittany roads, a breakaway was to be expected.
An escape group featuring Sylvain Chavanel embarked on a long-range bid with Van Avermaet’s BMC doing most of the work at the head of the chasing peloton, with Bora-Hansgrohe joining the chase late.
Sky were omnipresent over the final kilometers of racing and Luke Rowe said he felt they had been getting a more positive reaction from the crowds after being booed at the presentation.
“We have actually been getting quite a complimentary reception. Of course, for every thousand cheers you might get one negative person, but you take that in your stride.” Rowe said. “I’ve got broad shoulders; it’s in one ear and out the other for those who don’t appreciate what we’re doing.”
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