Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) took his second stage in as many years in Uraidla on Thursday at the Tour Down Under. The Slovakian fended off a challenge from Astana's Luis Leon Sanchez and defending champion Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott).
The 146-kilometre course featured one categorised climb and seven hilly laps through the town to the east of Adelaide. It amassed nearly 3,500m of elevation gain over the route and was likened to an Ardennes Classic at the start line in Lobethal.
The stage was expected to be one of the first GC shakeups of the race, and although Sagan won the stage into the same town last season, it was on a very different parcours and the Slovakian wasn’t the top pick of the day. Bora-Hansgrohe coach and directeur sportif, Patxi Vila admitted even the team weren't expecting Sagan to take the stage.
"We're getting used to this sort of result but it's surprising actually," Vila said to reporters after the stage. "We never thought he could be able to win today, I mean we thought the effort would be too hard, so it wasn't something we thought about.
"The race went smoothly until three laps to go, and then the last three laps were one hour of racing at full gas. The temperature was not so high today so at this moment it's OK, whatever you feel. Our goal was to have Jay [McCarthy] in the front group for GC and with Peter, we left it up to him and how the race was looking, and it was a good race for us in terms of pacing. We were one of the first teams to come to Australia, so I think the adaption to the heat we have is a bit better than other teams so that also paid on our side."
Though Vila did not expect Sagan to be in the mix for the victory, as the race began to crescendo in the final two laps of the course it became clear that a number of puncheurs including Impey, Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Michael Valgren (Dimension Data) and Sagan could all be in the mix for the stage, alongside the main GC protagonists.
Despite late attacks from Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) and Michael Woods (EF Education First), no single team could control the race, leaving Sagan, Impey and Sanchez to battle out the stage in a sprint.
"If you bring Peter Sagan with 10km to go and there's only a couple of one-kilometre climbs, you have a problem. I mean, he’s a winner, he's a racer, and he likes to race to win. Once he sees the finish line is close then the other teams have a real problem."
Sagan's surprise stage victory will be a welcome one for Bora-Hansgrohe and although the team brought Jay McCarthy – who has twice finished in the top five on GC at the race – as their overall contender, Sagan could be an outside bet. It will depend on how the GC riders race if he can stay in contention on the Corkscrew and Willunga Hill climbs in the coming days – alongside a final stage for the sprinters on Saturday – the three-time world champion could continue to raise eyebrows.
"Our plan was more to see how he was today and try something tomorrow but now I think we actually need to change our plan," said Vila. "Tomorrow is 2.4 kilometres of really steep climbing that will be around 9-10 minutes of climbing, which will be a different story than today. Today was a load of bumps, just two or three minutes but tomorrow will be really hard."
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