Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) might have his sixth Tour de France green jersey mathematically wrapped up, but the Slovakian still has to make it to Paris, which is not an easy task following a high-speed crash on Wednesday. After making it to the line in Laruns on stage 19, Sagan said that finishing the stage was worth more than the three stage victories he'd taken so far in this Tour de France.
As riders trickled across the line, attention turned from the general classification battle to the gruppetto and the green jersey. A member of the race organisation walked down the finishing straight, where media and team staff were waiting for the remaining riders to finish, holding up a piece of paper with the time cut scrawled on it.
They had until 45:58 to make it across the line, and they would do it comfortably, finishing 38:23 behind the winner, with Sagan the penultimate rider in the 22-man group.
"On the bicycle, I think we can compare it with the hardest day," Sagan said after stepping onto the podium to claim his green jersey more than half an hour after the rest of the day's classification leaders. "This is worth much more than the three victories before, for me. I have to survive tomorrow, too. I know that it will be easier than today.
"Mentally, I'm good, I think because it wasn't an excuse for me to throw it away. In my head, I knew had to finish the race. It didn't matter whether I was at the limit or not. I have to finish. Physically, it was really hard.
"It's impossible to describe. It was very painful, but, in the end, I'm happy to make it and to continue in the race tomorrow."
The stage started with some easier rolling terrain before the big mountains arrived, but Sagan had to fight for almost all of the stage when he was distanced on the opening fourth-category climb. At that point, Sagan realised what he was up against if he wanted to make it to the finish line, let alone make the time cut. Thoughts of the green jersey and assistance from teammates Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar and Lukas Pöstlberger – who had previously been in the breakaway – kept Sagan on the straight and narrow.
"I think the green jersey and my teammates helped me a lot and I'm very proud of them, and that we could make it," said Sagan. "I was surprised on the first climb, I thought, 'Fucking hell – what am I going to do today?' It was just a two-kilometre climb, easy, and I was already almost dropped. Afterwards, we managed it well with the gruppetto and my teammates and [Arnaud] Démare's teammates from FDJ.
"I have to say thank you to Bodnar, Daniel and Lukas because they did a very good job today, and they helped me a lot on the flat parts. They kept me strong mentally and kept me in the race."
Teammate Oss said there were times when he thought they might not be able to pull it off, but Sagan said that he was never prepared to wave the white flag.
"No," he said when asked if he thought he wouldn't make it. "I said, 'We have to make it. It will be about 50 minutes,' and, in the end, it was 46. We had a lot of time."