Like a ride in the park: Tour de France leaders take it slow
ANGERS, FRANCE >> Wearing the yellow jersey, Peter Sagan considered stopping at a cafe.
Hardly pedaling, the overall leaders in the Tour de France spent most of Monday's third stage chatting to one another and riding at such a leisurely pace that they could have fit right in on a town bike path.
"It was a very relaxed day for us. We went slow. It was nice," said Sagan, who playfully bumped shoulders with some of the other riders just to keep things interesting. "I was thinking one moment we were going to take the coffee like old time."
The morning caffeine didn't kick in until the very end of the lengthy and mostly flat 223.5-kilometer (139-mile) leg from Granville to Angers.
That was when Mark Cavendish showed off his sprinting experience by edging German rival Andre Greipel in a photo finish.
Having also won Saturday's opening stage at Utah Beach, it was Cavendish's second victory in this Tour and 28th overall. The British rider with Team Dimension Data matched five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault for second on the all-time list behind Eddy Merckx, who had a record 34 stage wins at the Tour.
"To even be mentioned in the same sentence as Bernard Hinault is something that I couldn't even have dreamed of," Cavendish said. "But I'm never going to compare myself to him."
On a very slightly uphill finish, Cavendish kept pedaling to the line while Greipel, who was ahead, put his head down a bit too early.
Neither rider knew who won immediately.
Greipel started celebrating, raising his left finger to the sky, but then quickly took it down. Cavendish clenched his fist briefly and then just fiddled with his bike computer until the victory was confirmed — then started hugging his teammates.
"I normally know when I win or I lose. When I crossed the line, I kind of knew I got it today," Cavendish said. "But I was quite lucky to just get him."
On the winner's podium, Cavendish was greeted by the 61-year-old Hinault, now at his final Tour in an ambassador role.
Bryan Coquard of France crossed third, while Sagan was fourth.
"I just made one mistake and it was a kind of reflex to go into the biggest gear," Greipel said. "If I had kept it in the gear I had then I think I would have made it."
Sagan, the world champion from Slovakia who took the yellow jersey on Sunday, remained eight seconds ahead of Julian Alaphilippe of France and 10 seconds in front of Alejandro Valverde of Spain in the overall standings.
Defending champion Chris Froome moved up one spot to fourth, 14 seconds behind Sagan.
Cavendish clocked nearly six hours as the Tour moved out of the Normandy region over a southeasterly route that concluded in Angers, in the Anjou region of the Loire valley.
The stage began on the Normandy coast. Nicknamed "the Monaco of the north," Granville was built on a rock and is known for its casino.
Angers is twinned with Austin, Texas, the home of Lance Armstrong.
Armindo Fonseca, a French rider with the Fortuneo-Vital Concept team, attacked at the opening flag and established a lead of more than 10 minutes at one point.
For much of the stage, the peloton rode at 33 kph (20 mph) — well below the predicted time table, which was based on an average speed of 39-43 kph (24-27 mph).
"It was a rest day for everyone," Sagan said. "Just the last 20-30 kilometers were hard."
Taking advantage of the peloton's pace, French rider Thomas Voeckler attacked midway through the stage and quickly bridged the gap to join Fonseca in the lead.
The duo was caught by the main pack with eight kilometers (5 miles) to go.
Stage 4 Tuesday is the race's longest, a slightly more challenging 237.5 (148-mile) leg from Saumur to Limoges.
"If the stage is shorter we'll be faster," Sagan said. "Tomorrow will be a long day."
The first mountain stage comes in Stage 5 on Wednesday in the Massif Central.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf
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