It should have been a day for the likes of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) or Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha). However, as Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) rode away to his debut Tour de France stage win the day’s favourites refused to work together to bring him back. Sagan rounded the final corner at the front of the bunch, swinging off to the right as he tried to force the hand of the riders behind.
The Slovakian has been burned one too many times in this situation and chose not to do the grunt work on this occasion. “Zdenek just attacked and surprised everybody. I was just looking to see what was happening, because it was Alpecin with Degenkolb and Kristoff [was there] and I said that these teams must work if they want to win the stage,” Sagan said at the finish.
“If I go to try and catch Zdenek then someone would catch me in the finish, so I said, 'No I don’t go.' Then it was too late. Rodríguez opened the sprint for Kristoff but after we did a sprint but it was too late.”
The Tinkoff-Saxo rider can perhaps take some solace in the fact that he won the bunch sprint, with Bryan Coquard (Europcar) taking third and Degenkolb in fourth, but yet another second place was clearly frustrating. Sagan’s run at the Tour is somewhat reminiscent to that of last year with this result his third runner-up finish in six days.
“I’m not happy but this is cycling. We are riding on the bike and every stage is different,” said Sagan. “It’s ok because I could have also been fourth or fifth but I was second. It’s not the best but for today it was my maximum I think."
The chaotic finish meant that the usual leadout procedure just wasn’t possible, proven by the fact that Joaquim Rodríguez was acting as Kristoff’s lead. Degenkolb lost a number of his riders when they got caught behind the crash, and he could only manage fourth on the day.
“The favourites for sprint were just looking at each other and nobody was investing energy to bring him back so he could stay away,” explained Degenkolb. “We were trying to bring Warren Barguil and Simon Geschke into the front in the final. It didn’t work out and I think that Warren was probably in the crash or behind the crash.
“I hope everybody is fine but we were missing him because when Stybar attacked it was only Simon there and we couldn’t close the gap anymore. That’s racing and on a hard final like this when you want to win then everything needs to go perfect.”
Two days ago, Degenkolb’s frustration at missing out was clear, but the German was much more pragmatic following this disappointment. “There were a couple of chances now and I didn’t win a stage yet. Like I said, I come here with no pressure. I’ve got two monuments this year and, for me, that’s ok. I’m trying to win a stage and that’s racing. It hasn’t worked out yet.”