Cycling prodigy Peter Sagan surged in the last turn of a hilly, crash-ridden third stage of the Tour de France to outclass the rest of the bunch and nail his second stage win on Tuesday.
The 197 kms ride to Boulogne sur Mer was as hard fought as expected but, as in Liege two days earlier, the 22-year-old Slovak was again too strong for the opposition.
Timing his move to perfection, he left no chance to Norway’s Edvald Boasson-Hagen and fellow-Slovak Peter Velits, who had to be content with the podium spots.
On the line, Sagan crossed himself and made a bizarre celebration gesture he said was an imitation of Tom Hanks’s stride in Forrest Gump.
“I’m like Forrest Gump. When they told him to run, he ran. Today, my team mates told me to win. And I won,” he said.
The Slovak explained he was a fan of motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi, also prone to spectacular gestures when he won and the comparison also holds in terms of sheer power.
There was a sharp contrast in the final stretch between Sagan’s celebrations and the misfortunes of some other leading names in this Tour.
Overall favourite Bradley Wiggins had to put a foot down when team mate Christopher Froome tumbled into the barriers ahead of him, also forcing Australian Michael Rogers to brake sharply. While none of them was seriously hurt, it was the conclusion of a bad day for Wiggins’s Team Sky outfit, who lost Belarus’ Kanstantsin Siutsou, the first man forced out of the race after crashing with 57 kms to go.
The same crash split the pack and three other Team Sky riders – second stage winner Mark Cavendish, Christian Knees and Richie Porte – found themselves trapped at the back and all finished several minutes off the pace.
“You can’t look back. You’ve got to look forward,” said Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford, hardly relieved by Boasson-Hagen’s second place.
“At the moment, Sagan has just got one or two per cent extra on the other riders,” he added.
Overall leader Fabian Cancellara finished fourth and retained his yellow jersey as well as his seven seconds lead over Wiggins and Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who launched a brave but vain attack five kms from the line.
“I was well placed but I don’t think anyone can beat Sagan on a terrain like this,” an impressed Cancellara said.
“In a way, this Tour is very normal. When there’s a prologue, I win. When there’s a sprint, Cavendish wins, and in stage like this one, Sagan wins,” he added.
Defending champion Cadel Evans also rode safely in the front and finished sixth after his BMC team kept him out of trouble all day.
Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas, Cavendish’s main rival in the green jersey race last year, also crashed out of the Tour.
But the world champion’s main rival in the points classification this year will obviously be Sagan, who already leads him by 43 points.
“My first goal was to win a couple of stages. That’s done.
Now I hope to make it to Paris with the green jersey on,” the Slovak warned.