Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was back on top at the Tour de France on Sunday in La-Roche-sur-Yon, winning the stage after avoiding the late crash that took out Fernando Gaviria. He took the yellow leader’s jersey and shrugged off a protest from John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), who accused the world champion of closing him against the barriers in the sprint.
Sagan was ahead of the crash on the sweeping right turn with two kilometres to go that saw numerous go down and many others blocked. Sagan was part of the select group that was able to contest the sprint, win it and so take yellow.
"I have to say thanks to all my Bora-Hansgrohe teammate, they kept me in the front in last 10km it was a very technical finish with uphills, downhills and turns," Sagan said retelling the tale of the sprint from in the saddle.
"The last part was straight but slightly up. I saw [Arnaud] Demare on my wheel and I was behind [Andre] Greipel. I was hoping Demare was going to start the sprint and he did. I followed him and did my sprint. I was happy to win because [Sonny] Colbrelli as coming. It was a good end to the day. I'm happy."
Colbrelli came up fast and would have won if the line had been further down the road but Sagan was not afraid of being beaten. Fear does not seem to be part of Sagan's vocabulary.
"I wasn't afraid of him beating me because there's no time to think in moments like that, I'm not afraid of anything, well sometimes, perhaps at night…" Sagan jokingly.
No concerns about Degenkolb protest, no flashback to the 2017 controversy
John Degenkolb waved an arm in protest after being caught up in the fight for the best wheel in the final metres. He was convinced that Sagan squeezed him against the barriers when he followed Demare. For Sagan, it was like a flashback to the 2017 Tour de France, when he clashed with Mark Cavendish and the UCI judges ruled he caused the Manxman to crash and so disqualified him from the race.
However, this time the UCI race judges, using the new Video Assist system of multiple television cameras, deemed that Sagan had not do anything wrong when he slotted in behind Demare and ahead of the German Trek-Segafredo sprinter.
"I think I did a clean sprint," Sagan said, ready to argue his case. "I didn't see it on television but I think the jury is here to decide if I did anything wrong or not."
Sagan refuted comparison with the controversial 2017 sprint in Vittel. On that occasion, he stuck out his elbow, seemingly to find his balance, as Cavendish came up along the barriers. It looked as if Sagan was defending his position, with Cavendish crashing hard and fracturing his shoulder.
"Well, that was last year, it wasn't my fault what happened," Sagan argued, denying he was perhaps worried of another disqualification.
"Last year everyone moved to the right and he [Cavendish] had big speed from the back and what happened, happened. I don't think it was my fault and I think the UCI said that too at the end of the season. I don't think about it anymore, it's in the past and I'm focused on this year."
Sagan is never afraid to contest sprints and take risks but makes it clear he is never malicious.
"Every sprint is different. If you're honest with yourself and you do right, that's right. I don't do things in the sprint on purpose," he said.
Yellow is always special
Sagan was happy to pull on the yellow jersey as well as winning the stage. It is only the third time he has worn cycling’s most iconic jersey and he will wear it during Tuesday’s 35km team time trial.
"I think it's always a special day at the Tour de France if you pull on the yellow jersey," Sagan pointed out, explaining he will put it in his cycling museum under construction in Slovakia and give his yellow lion toy to his son Marlon.
Taking the yellow jersey is Sagan's second major highlight of the 2018 season after also winning Paris-Roubaix in April. However, at least for now, his win in the Hell of the North is his biggest achievement of the season.
"You can't compare one day in yellow with a win at Paris-Roubaix. Nobody can take away my rock from Paris-Roubaix, well perhaps just a thief," Sagan explained, again adding a light-hearted thought to his words.
"I'm very happy to have it and if I could keep it to Paris, then it's be different but you know, I won't wear it to Paris, not me, I can't do that. I'll hope to have the green jersey if possible."