He may have only won it thanks to a bike-throw on the line, but a win's a win, as they say, and Bora-Hansgrohe's Peter Sagan was delighted to open his account on stage 3 of this year's Tour Down Under, winning again in the town of Uraidla – just like he did last year.
"I'm very happy to win, and very grateful to my teammates," Sagan told the media after stepping down off the podium. "They did a great job and took care of me, keeping me at the front, which meant that I was able to save a lot of energy for the final lap.
"So I won – only by a little bit – but I won, and I'm very happy about that," he said.
Look up 'keeping your powder dry' in the dictionary, and you'll find a picture of Peter Sagan. The three-time world champion rode the perfect race to leave it until the very last moment before showing himself, bursting from the reduced peloton – whittled down over the final seven laps of a 146.2km third stage from Lobethal to Uraidla – to go head-to-head with Astana's Luis Leon Sanchez in the sprint for victory.
And while Sagan won for the second year in a row in Uraidla, pity poor Sanchez who, for the second day in a row, powered off the front of the race in the dying metres of the race only to be beaten at the last moment.
So close was it on Thursday, in fact, that there was a short wait until Sagan was given the nod. Sanchez, it seems, will simply have to keep trying.
With most teams having reconnoitred stage 3 beforehand, the general consensus was that it would be one of the toughest stages for years. And while the hilly final circuits caused the peloton to shed riders with each lap that passed, the stage only truly came alive on the last 14km lap, with Michael Woods (EF Education First) looking like the man most likely to win after launching a devastating attack inside the final three kilometres.
Sagan, though, simply waited, only pouncing once Mitchelton-Scott's Daryl Impey opened his sprint in the last few hundred metres. Once he was confirmed as the winner over Sanchez, Sagan could be crowned King of Uraidla once more.
"Well, it was a different parcours this time," Sagan said. "Last year we prepared everybody for the last climb, and it was really hard – in fact, much harder and warmer than today.
"Today, I thought I'd just see how things went, and CCC Team set a very high pace during the race [for race leader Patrick Bevin], and lap by lap it got harder and harder. In the end, though, I'd saved a lot of energy for the last lap, and for me that last lap was really under control."
Thanks to the 10-second win-bonus, Sagan now sits just one second off Bevin's race lead, but with stage 4 on Friday including the tough climb of Corkscrew, any hopes of him taking the race lead, as he did after his win in Uraidla last year, are surely gone.
"Tomorrow's going to be hard," said Sagan. "I heard that it's maybe going to rain. We'll see. But I think that the race is going to be decided on the last climb, and on the descent to the finish there may be a breakaway clear – a small group of, like, five or 10 riders – for the final sprint."
Time will tell if Sagan is among them. He shouldn't be, but then Sagan was never really expected to still be in the mix at the end of stage 3 on Thursday.
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