After a spring blighted by illness, Peter Sagan claimed his first victory in TotalEnergies colours when he outsprinted Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) to win stage 3 of the Tour de Suisse in Grenchen.
It was the 18th Tour de Suisse (opens in new tab)stage victory of Peter Sagan’s (opens in new tab)career, but few have carried quite the same heft as this one, despite his own, half-hearted protestations to the contrary before the podium ceremony.
“It’s just a stage win,” Sagan insisted, even if his own half-smile then and the sight of TotalEnergies (opens in new tab) riders queuing up to congratulate him immediately after the finish told its own story.
Sagan hadn’t won a race of any description since he claimed the overall title at the Tour of Slovakia last September, after all, while his last WorldTour victory dated all the way back to stage 10 of last year’s Giro d’Italia.
In the intervening period, a knee injury had forced Sagan to abandon the Tour de France, while illness had ruined the opening chapter of his new start with TotalEnergies. Sagan brought an early end to his Classics campaign, missing both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
He warmed up for the Tour de Suisse by riding on the gravel at Unbound in early June, but that recreational outing was simply a detour. His competitive instincts on the road remain resolutely intact. Despite struggling at the GP Canton Aargau and on the opening days of the Tour de Suisse, Sagan signalled his intentions from distance here, delegating his TotalEnergies team to help Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert to help pull back the day’s early break.
“It was hard to get back in racing mood after my sickness and I was three months without racing. It just needs time,” said Sagan, who perched himself on Kristoff’s wheel for the bunch finish in Grenchen.
Kristoff’s teammate Andrea Pasqualon was leading out the sprint, but Sagan didn’t wait for the Italian to peel off. Instead, he confidently opened his effort from distance, moving decisively ahead of Kristoff and then fending off a late, late comeback from the fast-closing Coquard.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos) took fourth on the stage ahead of Alex Aranburu (Movistar) and Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), but Sagan’s positioning and power carried the day.
“I’m used to being beaten by that guy, so it was not a big surprise,” Kristoff admitted afterwards. “He’s been not super the last year or so, but it looks now like he did some good training. He looked fresh on the climbs today, a little bit like the old Sagan. He was better than me today, as easy as that.”
While Sagan’s was the story of the day, there were still frissons among the general classification contenders, even if the yellow jersey remains on the shoulders of Stevie Williams (Bahrain Victorious), who finished safely in the front group.
Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) looked to have stolen a march on his rivals when he clipped off the front with Geraint Thomas (Ineos) at the second intermediate sprint with 10km to go, picking up a time bonus that temporarily cut Williams’ overall lead to two seconds.
With 4km remaining, however, Schachmann was one of a number of riders to come down in a crash, and he would eventually come in 53 seconds down on Sagan, dropping to 17th overall at 55 seconds.
Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal) is now second overall, 6 seconds behind Williams, while Andreas Leknessund (DSM) is third at 7 seconds, just ahead of Thomas, who three bonus seconds lifted him twelve places in the standings.
How it unfolded
Tuesday’s hilly run through the Jura was animated by a six-man break featuring Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost), Joseph Rosskopf (Human Powered Health), Manuele Boaro (Astana) and Mathias Reutimann (Swiss National Team), who forged clear ahead of the first of the day’s seven climbs.
Simmons availed of his spell off the front to buttress his lead in the king of the mountains competition, but Gilbert’s presence meant that the escapees were kept on a tight leash. Gilbert, warming up for the final Tour de France appearance of his career, began the day just over two minutes off Williams’ lead, which prompted Bahrain Victorious to keep tabs on the sextet’s advantage, which never stretched much beyond three minutes.
More pertinently, the sprinters’ teams were determined not to be foiled by the breakaway as they had been in Aesch on Monday, when the enterprising Leknessund withstood their pursuit to claim a fine stage victory.
The break’s unity of purpose began to fragment in the finale, with Bissegger attacking ahead of the penultimate ascent of Vauffelin. Simmons responded on the climb itself to hoover up more king of the mountains points, while Boaro and Reutimann tapped out of the break at that point.
Over the other side, Bissegger attacked again, this time forging clear alone. The Swiss rider was the last survivor of the break, carrying a lead of a minute into the final 20km. Although he put up impressive resistance on the final ascent of Lommiswil, he was swept up with 11.5km to go.
Shortly afterwards, Luke Rowe helped to tee up his teammate Thomas – and Schachmann – at the intermediate sprint, but the battle for the overall standings soon receded to the background as the sprinters’ teams set to work.
Sagan was well placed throughout the finale, but nous can only carry a man so far, as his fourth-place finish in similar circumstances at Sovicille during Tirreno-Adriatico showed. This time out, Sagan had the strength to match, powering clear to claim the spoils. The Tour de France, and with it, a tilt at an eighth green jersey, is just around the corner.
“It’s nice to be back,” Sagan said.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.
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