Bora-Hansgrohe's hopes of lifting Peter Sagan into the yellow jersey at the Tour de Suisse on Sunday went to plan until Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) launched a wily solo attack with 11km to go that caught the sprinters' teams off guard and spoiled the day for Sagan, who won the field sprint for second but missed the yellow jersey by fractions of a second.
Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) is the new race leader, although technically tied on time with the Slovakian champion. Opening time trial winner Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) and Team Sunweb's Michael Matthews are now third and fourth, respectively, both sitting one second back with the mountains looming later in the week.
Sagan started the day seventh overall after putting in a stellar ride on the short opening time trial. He started the stage just seven seconds down on Dennis, and with time bonuses available at three intermediate sprints and at the finish, the yellow jersey would certainly be up for grabs.
"It was a very hard stage," Sagan said of the circuit race in and around Langnau.
The 159.6km stage consisted of three loops of a circuit that included climbs of the Schallenberg and Chuderhüsi on each lap for 2,500 metres of elevation gain.
"Our strategy today was to go for the stage win and the yellow jersey," Sagan said. "We knew all bonus seconds would be valuable, not only at the finish but also the intermediate sprints."
Sagan gained two seconds at the second intermediate sprint, but then Asgreen, who started the day just two seconds behind Dennis, claimed three seconds at the final one. Bonus seconds of 10, six and four seconds to the top three at the finish would likely decide the yellow jersey.
When Bora and the other teams that were looking for a sprint finish brought back the breakaway, the Bora plan to take the race lead looked to be working out perfectly as the kilometres ticked down. Then it all went wrong. Sanchez accelerated off the front of the peloton with 11km to go, sensing a lull in action as various sprinters, including Sagan, Matthews and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), made their way back after the final climb.
"The team did again an excellent job of pulling and controlling, and in the finale I was in the smaller leading group, ready to contest the sprint," Sagan said. "Astana did a good job for Luis Leon Sanchez, while in the group there wasn't a lot of collaboration, so we couldn't bring him back. It's a pity I missed the yellow jersey by less than a second, but I'm satisfied with the performance of the squad."
Bora-Hansgroghe sports director Jan Valach rued the near misses his team has had with the yellow jersey over the past two days.
"Peter showed he had very good legs and made it to the front group," Valach said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to catch Luis, but we did the best we could."
Nevertheless, Valach was happy with his squad.
"The whole team performed perfectly," Valach said. "You could say we are a bit unlucky. Yesterday, Bodnar was tied in first place for less than a second, and today Sagan is tied as well for the yellow jersey. However, this is all part of the race, and the only thing we can do is fight every day."
Sagan echoed his director's attitude, saying he hoped to add a stage win before the race reaches the mountains.
"I'm tired after today's effort, but I feel well," Sagan said. "The next two stages could suit me, but we take nothing for granted and we will give our absolute best every day."