Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was one of the few riders not affected by a major pile-up in the rain-soaked finale of stage 5 of the Tour de Pologne on Wednesday, coming past just ahead of the crash to take third on the stage.
The roads were still wet when Team Sky brought the head of the peloton into one of the last of a series of curving left- and right-hand bends at the city centre stage finish in Rzeszow. Although Sagan and the tip of the bunch came through, just behind them a rider lost control of his bike, skidded hard across the apex of a left-hand corner and brought down at least half a dozen more.
The rest of the bunch was blocked behind and while the vast majority of the peloton were uninjured, they were delayed. Team soigneurs had an anxious wait at the finish as riders made their way across the line in dribs and drabs, grimy and rain-soaked in an area where it had apparently been dry and hot for days. As the crash took place well inside the last three kilometres, the GC was largely unaffected. Riders finishing less than 10 minutes later told Cyclingnews that there was no longer any sign of any injured riders on the ground or even that the crash had happened.
Sagan said afterwards that staying upright or falling on stage 5 was largely a question of luck. Staying on his bike means that he was able to extend his lead by virtue of the bonus seconds available for third.
"It was very dangerous because it was in the city and I think it hasn't rained here for a long time," Sagan said afterwards. "There was oil on the road and it was very slippery on the wet road. Yeah, I was lucky I didn't crash, that's good."
Amongst those injured on stage 5 was Maximilian Schachmann (Quick Step Floors) who did not complete the course. Schachmann, part of the break, had already skidded off the road on a right-hand bend when the rain started with 27 kilometres to go. Schachmann tried to continue, but an injured left leg proved too much for him and he was forced to abandon. There was one other abandon on the stage, FDJ's Kevin Reza.
Sagan forges on, with a newly increased advantage of 14 seconds on second place Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing Team). Despite this, he was coy about whether he or Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Rafal Majka, now 20 seconds back, was the team leader. Certainly it was not possible, he said, to form conclusions about climbing from the stage.
"It was a short, very hard stage, with some very steep climbs, not long enough to drop all the sprinters but it's okay," Sagan pointed out. "We have the hardest stages ahead of us, tomorrow [Thursday] and the day after, but for sure it's better for Rafal than for me."
As for Thursday's uphill finish in Zakopane, where Sagan won back in 2011, he was, to say the least, non-committal about his possibilities there this time round. Asked how he viewed the stage, he answered, "Nothing, we will see tomorrow."
After Wednesday's crash-blighted finale, perhaps taking a strictly 'day-by-day' policy in the Tour de Pologne was understandable.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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