Peter Sagan claims Tour yellow jersey after Stage win
CHERBOURG-EN-COTENTIN, FRANCE >> Strangely, Peter Sagan did not celebrate his first Tour de France yellow jersey 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 wasn't 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 didn't 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 1.9-kilometer 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 was second in the 183-kilometer stage between Saint-Lo and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde in third place.
Sagan, who already has four best sprinter's green jerseys 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," he 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 in 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 likened to the 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."
Belgian Jasper Stuyven, 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 500 meters left.
Overnight leader Mark Cavendish finished just behind BMC co-leader Richie Porte, who was among the big losers of day, crossing the finish line 1 minute and 45 seconds behind Sagan after a puncture.
Cavendish started the day with a four-second lead over Marcel Kittel, with Sagan in third place, six seconds behind. The Slovak rider now has an 8-second lead over Alaphilippe, with Valverde in third place 10 seconds back. Chris Froome, last year's Tour winner, is fifth overall after Sunday's stage, 14 seconds behind Sagan.
All 198 riders took the start in Saint-Lo under grey skies but Cavendish brought a splash of color to the scene.
Wearing yellow for the first time, the Briton marked the special occasion with a customized bike featuring yellow handlebar and pedals.
Stuyven and three other riders immediately broke away from the peloton on slippery roads near the English Channel as rain started to fall. A crash split the main peloton in two after 60 kilometers. Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez 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 pack by five Tinkoff teammates as the pace slowed down at the front.
There were some broad smiles on the riders' faces as the sun finally broke through the clouds with 100 kilometers left, drying the roads and warming bodies in the peloton.
The pace in the bunch barely moved until 55 kilometers to go when Cavendish's Dimension Data outfit started to push forward.
The peloton's chase started a bit late, as the final battle shaped up with rain falling again and Stuyven almost upseting 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 Spanish Vuelta. "Unfortunately, I was 450 meters short."
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