Over the past couple of years Peter Sagan has earned a reputation as the nearly-man – or Mr. Second Place – of the Tour de France and, though it has been 10 stages in waiting, the Slovak earned his first runner-up spot of the 2016 edition on Tuesday.
Sagan, who finished second on no fewer than nine occasions across the 2014 and 2015 Tours – and in the top five on a further 11 – was beaten by Michael Matthews in a seven-man sprint after driving a strong breakaway to the line in Revel.
"There's more to life than winning bike races," he philosophised as the television crews closed in, later adding: "I'm happy for Michael to win a stage in the Tour de France."
Sagan can afford such an outlook given the story of his 2016 Tour de France so far. It has featured more of those near misses – three more top fives – but also rich success, with a first stage victory since 2013 coming on stage 2, and with it a debut spell in the famous maillot jaune. In any case, this second place brought a small victory of its own as the 26-year-old, who has topped the points classification in the past four Tours, stole the green jersey back from Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish was the last rider to win the classification before the reign of Sagan's dominance began. Starting the day 7 points behind the Manxman, Sagan moved into the virtual lead by winning the intermediate sprint from the breakaway, before pushing his advantage out to 38 points. Having ventured into the break to win the intermediate sprint on Sunday's mountain stage in Andorra, the world champion looked to attack on the early first-category climb here to provide further demonstration of why he is the master of the classification.
"I'm very happy about that," Sagan said in the mixed zone, back in green. "Stage victory I have, the yellow jersey on me this Tour de France is a very nice experience, and now the green jersey again and I want to keep it."
Splitting the break
Michael Matthews said in his winner's press conference that Sagan was visibly the strongest rider in the break, and the Australian, who held the tactical trump card in the form of two teammates, glued himself to the world champion's wheel in the closing phases.
Sagan undoubtedly spent more energy throughout the day, driving the breakaway effort on while Katusha and others chased, before having to close down Daryl Impey's softening-up attacks on the late third-category climb.
"I was trying to keep everybody turning," said Sagan of the final 50 or so kilometres, but he soon grew impatient with those looking to sit in and he split the group with an acceleration in the crosswinds, reducing it to seven.
"A nice group? I don't know – there were a lot of riders who didn't work well with us," he said. "I'm very happy I split this group in the last 20km – after that we worked very well."
However, in the closing phases the numerical advantage, and with it the odds of stage victory, were in Orica's favour.
"Orica had three riders at the front, and the work was more them than on me. On the climb I wanted to split the small group, but the Orica guy [Impey] was attacking, and in the final everyone was expecting the sprint."