Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) finished third on the sprint in Limoges but shrugged off thoughts of defeat, preferring to celebrate keeping the yellow jersey for another day and also taking the green points jersey back from Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
Sagan picked up four bonus seconds for third place and so extended his general classification lead on Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) to 12 seconds before the race heads into the hills of the Massif Central on Wednesday.
"I got third but I'm happy to keep yellow and have the green jersey and stay safe. It's all okay. I'm actually happy for Marcel, its nice to see different riders win the stages," he said assuringly.
"It was a fast finish, a power finish, a nice one for me. It reminded me of the finish in England (Harrogate), when Cavendish crashed and Kittel won. It was a good sprint for me. It could be better but it could be worse. I started too early today. I started at the same time as Marcel. He kept going but I couldn’t. If I’d waited it would have been better. Coquard made a good sprint. He was patient, he started later and almost won."
Sagan has now worn the yellow jersey for two days and leads the green jersey points competition. He won stage 2 and is likely to win other stages before the finish in Paris on July 24. Sagan rarely feels the pressure but seems to be enjoying himself in the media spotlight.
"I'm trying to enjoy life and cycling, while doing my best,” he said. "Is it my best Tour de France ever? I don’t know. I’m in yellow but Paris is still a long away. I know I can't have yellow in Paris, so I'm happy to have it now," he said, letting out his usual gruff laugh as he joked and toyed with every question he faced.
After stages 2 and 3 Sagan turned serious briefly when he was critical of the overall contenders and their teams in the Tour de France who insist on fighting for position with the sprinters to avoid losing any time to their rivals.
He had called for the UCI to change the now controversial three-kilometre rule, so that times are taken before the fight for the sprint. Some of the teams seemed to have heeded his call, and the sprint in Limoges was less chaotic.
"Did they change the rules already?" Sagan asked, before showing understanding for the overall contenders who are perhaps not as skilled in a sprint as he is.
"The truth is that they also tried to stay in the front but it's normal because they don't want to crash. Today there were also some small roads before the finish and everyone wants to be in the front for the sprint."
Keeping yellow in the mountains
Sagan is rarely evasive with his answers but he dodged several questions about Wednesday’s opening mountain stage and his chances of keeping the yellow jersey.
Astana coach Paolo Slongo, who knows Sagan well and coached him in the early years of his career at the Liquigas team, predicted that Sagan could finish with the leaders and so retain the yellow jersey.
When Cyclingnews put that prediction to Sagan, he kept this cards close to his chest.
"We’ll see tomorrow. For sure I try," he said. "I’ve just finished one stage and so I don’t want to think about tomorrow yet. I’ve got to switch things, see the stage and perhaps try to stay on. It could be a difficult stage but we’ll see for who. I’ll tell you tomorrow. I hope to have a good day."
In theory, Alberto Contador will become the protected team leader at Tinkoff from tomorrow, with Sagan perhaps expected to switch to a support role and focus on the points jersey. Sagan claimed that his teammate has recovered from his two nasty crashes during the weekend.
"He's had two flat days to recover and I believe he'll be okay for tomorrow. He' a very tough guy and recovers very well. For sure he’ll be there," Sagan concluded.
It shouldn't be a surprise if Sagan is up there too and still in the yellow jersey after the mountain stage.