Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) put a difficult start to the year behind him on stage 5 of the Tour de France, taking victory in Colmar to strengthen his grip on the green jersey and move up to tied-16th on the all-time stage victories list.
The Slovak now lies with 12 wins, equal to Miguel Indurain as well as legendary sprinters Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel. The Bora-Hansgrohe leader also moved past Sean Kelly into sixth place on the Tour's all-time top-three-finishes list with 44 in total.
But beyond the statistics, the win also marks a turnaround from a spring that saw him suffer from illness in March and never quite hit 100 per cent during the Classics season.
"I think we can't compare it," Sagan said, when asked about the difference in him between April and July. "At the start of the season I was sick. I think it made a lot of damage in my body – losing a lot of weight in a few days. I think my body suffered from that.
"After all the hard races it could be that my body doesn't recover like normal, because it was still hard to recover after the sickness and the period of hard races."
Sagan persevered through the spring though, taking top five placings at Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix before moving his focus to stage races. Victories at the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse followed, while fourth place behind his brother and teammate Juraj saw him start the Tour in an unfamiliar jersey – that of Bora-Hansgrohe.
In recent years, it has been a rare sight to see Sagan in anything other than a national or world champion's kit, or a classification leader's jersey. He's back in green now, leading Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) by 144 points to 97, but a line of questioning about his attire was met with a terse reply which has become something of a Sagan trademark.
"I don't care about it," he said. "It's just a jersey. Just colours."
The six-time green jersey winner was more effusive when the topic turned to his fight for that jersey though. In the mid-stage intermediate sprint, Sagan once again lost a point to stage 4 winner Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep), but the 30-0 score at the finish more than made up for the mis-step at kilometre 71.
"It's better not to think," Sagan said about Viviani's chances at green. "[I take it] day by day. I try to do my best and then try to manage to make some gap between me and him, and Matthews and Wout Van Aert [second to Sagan on stage 5].
"We only did four [road] stages," he added, repeating his point from a day ago. "We still have a lot of work to do, just like every year. Some days it could be bad luck, some days you can take more points and they take less."
Before Sagan's 20-day stint in green last summer, Bora-Hansgrohe had never worn the jersey at the Tour. Now, after his win in Colmar, they now sit fourth on the all-time list with 23, only behind far older teams in Lotto Soudal (66), QuickStep (43) and Jumbo-Visma (39).
With Sagan back on top form, there could be 16 more to come, including the most important of all – the one handed out on the Champs-Elysées.
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