Peter Sagan has been consistently unable to improve upon a string of second place sprint finishes since his last Tour de France victory in 2013, and stage 13 to Rodez on Friday was no different. The Tinkoff-Saxo rider was thwarted this time by himself, making a 'mistake' on the uphill drag sprint finish into Rodez by sitting down on his saddle rather than accelerating at the decisive moment when he caught Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), allowing the Belgian to celebrate his victory by a bike length.
It might be Sagan's 15th career runner-up finish, but this time he was more frustrated than ever, and his 24 point lead in the green jersey classification was no consolation.
"I'm not upset, I'm pissed. It's different," Sagan said.
The three remnants of the day's 198.5km stage, Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar), started the final climb of the day into Rodez just seconds ahead of the chasing peloton. On the Côte Saint-Pierre, Arnaud Démare was the first of the fast men to jump with Van Avermaet then Sagan following the FDJ rider before the duo surged clear.
Where Sagan has triumphed in similar finishes in a dominating fashion, a lapse of judgement perhaps brought on by the 38-degree heat, left the 25-year-old still fuming in the mix zone after collecting his green jersey.
"I lost the race for my mistake," he added, "I don't like if I lose due to my legs. I can accept that. But today I waited too long. I got on Greg's wheel and sat down and then I ran out of legs. It's not bad luck. That was my mistake because I needed to carry on pushing so that I could win."
Little solace in green jersey victory
Sagan lost the battle for stage honours but has moved one step closer to claiming a fourth straight green jersey with his lead over André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) now out to 24 points. But this was little consolation with the pain of losing the stage fresh in mind and legs and the sight of his last stage win, Albi, just one hour away.
Sagan started the stage with a two point buffer over Greipel who won the day's intermediate sprint to become the maillot vert virtual on the road. Sagan decided to only partially contest the challenge in Laboutarie as he finished tenth, explaining "I went for it but not full gas because I was thinking about the finish and not the intermediate sprint."
With Greipel struggling on the Côte de la Selve, Tinkoff-Saxo put the hammer down to force the German into difficulty and end any aspirations he had of contesting the finish. The 33-year-old eventually crossed the line in 161st place, over 12 minutes down on Van Avermaet.
For Greipel to reclaim the green jersey he will need to score heavily on stages 15 and 21 which award 50 points to first place and 30 points to second, and maximise his gains in the intermediate sprints.
Sagan though has effectively all but ensured the maillot vert is his all the way to Paris. It is quite an achievement considering the changes to the green jersey that were tacitly introduced to end the Sagan era.
"That's a positive thing but team did a very good job for me and I have to say thanks you to everybody it was my mistake I lost the race," Sagan said adding, "I'm happy to have some points but first place would have been better. The one positive thing of today was I got more points…"