The rain, thunder and hailstorms that descended on the stage 12 finish line of Plateau de Beille after thermometers topped out at 38 degrees Celsius earlier in the afternoon ensured the third and final stage of the 2015 Tour de France's Pyrenean adventures would be a day of suffering for the gruppetto.
For Peter Sagan, it was another day of defending the green jersey, with the Tinkoff-Saxo rider prolonging the podium procedures as he crossed the line 33:34 down on stage winner Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) to collect his fourth green tunic of this year's race.
"We will see tomorrow, today was very hard stage and I am very happy to finish," Sagan said of stage. "Tomorrow it might be a stage for me but I'm just happy that I've made it to the finish today under the pouring rain."
The 188km stage from Lannemezan to the hors catégorie finish was the third time in the Tour's history the two locations had been the départ and arrivée of a stage. The 2015 edition would include three categorised climbs before the final summit, with an early intermediate sprint point after just 20km to keep the sprinters interested.
Sagan started the stage with a seven-point buffer over André Greipel, who was celebrating his 33rd birthday today and was looking to collect a green jersey as a present. Sagan was not in gift-giving mood with his third place in the sprint behind Greipel and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), denying the Lotto-Soudal sprinter a visit to the podium.
While Sagan may have put a damper on Greipel's celebrations, today is incidentally his girlfriend's birthday.
"Today is the 16th, also my girlfriend has a birthday, so it's good for me," Sagan said.
Sagan now leads the green jersey competition with 254 points. Greipel is just two points behind on 252, and the classification will likely to be decided between the two riders. Degenkolb sits third on 201 points, while Mark Cavendish is fourth with 185 points. With Sagan scoring points at the intermediate and finish lines where his rivals are unlikely to, he will be hard to catch.
Stage 13 of the Tour is the first of the "transitional" stages to the Alps, with the parcours in the coming days favouring the characteristics of Sagan. Stages 13, 14, and 16 have will offer 30 point to the stage winner and 25 points for second place, while stage 15 has 50 points on offer with 30 points for the runner up. With Sagan finishing top-four in the sprints contested so far, the coming days will not easily provide opportunities for his rivals to pile on the points.
Sagan's reign in the green jersey was reason for ASO to adjust the points allocation for 2015 so that it favoured stage winners, but the 25-year-old has overcome the hurdles placed in front of him by the race organisers.
"The rules of the points classification have changed last year, also because I won it three times in a row. Now it's harder for me to win but it's not impossible. After the first mountain, I have only two points lead," he said.
While Sagan has not won a Tour de France stage in over two years, last tasting success in Albi, he has finished second on eight occasions since to underline his consistency at the pointy end when it matters.
Sagan can ride defensively over the coming transitional stages, safe in the knowledge that his rivals are on the back foot, unable to compete at both sprints for points. A fourth jersey in Paris would see Sagan equal Sean Kelly with classification victories.
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