Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was forced to again accept defeat to Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) at the Tour de France but was happy to have found a way through the chaos into the headwind and to have beat Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) to take second place.
Sagan's late desperate surge and bike throw ensured he kept the green points jersey. Third place would have given the green jersey to Gaviria and given the Colombian sprinter a psychological and numerical edge as the riders head deep into Brittany for two testing hilly stages, which will play a vital role in the points classification.
Gaviria scored 50 points thanks to winning the stage and also collected 11 points at the intermediate sprint, giving him a total of 139 points. Sagan scored 30 points for second place and picked up nine points in the intermediate sprint. That was 22 less than Gaviria today, but he still pulled on the green jersey thanks to his total of 143 points. Gaviria is now just four points behind, with the green jersey just out of his reach.
Sagan stopped just past the finish with his soigneur and press officer, waiting to hear the official result. Gaviria was nearby and already celebrating his second stage win; Sagan was hoping to be confirmed in second place so he would keep the green jersey. He chomped on a big handful of Haribo sweets to kick-start his recovery, and when he heard the good news, he clicked in and rode to the podium area.
"I still got second, and second is better than third. I'm happy to keep the green jersey," Sagan said in the mixed zone behind the podium.
"I need better legs. But every stage is different and every sprint is different. He's faster than me but that's OK.
"The wind was a big issue today, and maybe it would have been better if I was on the wheel of Andre (Greipel), but I can't complain. I didn't crash, and we're all healthy in the team."
The stiff headwind blowing down the straight final kilometre meant that the sprinters fought for the wheels to avoid any extra effort. When one rider surged doing a lead out, the others dove into the slipstream and snaked across the road. It was chaotic, with only the sprinters' bike skills meaning there were no crashes in the final metres.
Sagan dismissed suggestions there had again been complaints about his sprinting in the final metres. So too did the video referee, who watched the sprint several times and from different television angles.
"Every day someone is complaining," Sagan said, preferring to talk about Bora-Hansgrohe's strategy for the day. "We didn't pull today, just a little bit in the final. The breakaway was strong and they did a good job at the front."
Sagan now faces two difficult-but-important days as he fights to keep the green jersey. Most of the other sprinters will suffer in the coastal hills on Wednesday's stage to Quimper and especially the finish on the top of the Mur-de-Bretagne. Sagan is hoping to be up front on both stages to score as many points as possible and hope that Gaviria is not as strong as Sagan is on the climbs.
Because both stages are classified as hilly, fewer points are awarded at the finish [a sliding scale from 30 instead of from 50] but they arguably have more importance for Sagan if Gaviria and any of his other green jersey rivals do not score any.
Sagan knew the numbers when asked how he can beat Gaviria.
"We'll see, maybe we wait for a mistake," he said. "We will see over the next days with the climbs."
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