With just under 15km to go, it looked all over for Tinkoff-Saxo’s Peter Sagan, after an impressive day’s racing beneath a multitude of hats (or should that be caps?).
Variously domestique deluxe to a similarly impressive Alberto Contador, today’s shot caller in chief, and potential sprint rival to stage winner Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Etixx-Quick-Step fast man Mark Cavendish, Sagan had been enjoying something close to a perfect day.
Then, with 14.9km of a wind-whipped run from Utrecht to Zeeland remaining, disaster struck. Sagan punctured and swiftly dropped from a lead group riding at full gas as principal members Contador and Chris Froome (Team Sky) sought to capitalise on the misfortunes of Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.
No matter. With 12.6km remaining, Sagan had regained contact, making up anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds in less than a kilometre-and-a-half. Anger is an energy, according to John Lydon. Perhaps Sagan is a fan.
Back at the sharp end, Sagan kept a cool head to defeat Cavendish and come close to winning the stage by running Greipel to the line. Fabian Cancellara’s bike throw was enough to catapult him into yellow, but insufficient to pass the rampaging Slovak.
Scorn is routinely heaped upon teams who attempt a yellow jersey-green jersey double (witness Sky’s rapid reallocation of priorities when Wiggins pulled on the maillot jaune in 2012), and, in fairness, Tinkoff-Saxo have not disguised their primary aim in supporting Contador for the GC.
Should they decide to pursue a dual campaign, however, based on today’s evidence, they have the firepower. Contador reprised the tactical master stroke of stage 13 of the 2013 Tour (perhaps having learned a lesson from Armstrong en route to La Grande-Motte in 2009) while Sagan stayed close, even when fortune struck against him.
Etixx-Quick-Step, by contrast, showed in numbers, rode hard, and left empty-handed, continuing the unenviable pattern of Spring. Mark Cavendish’s disappointment at missing the stage, and Tony Martin’s at missing the maillot jaune, will only be compounded by our award of today’s prestigious Top Banana award to Sagan.
Chapeau, Peter. Don’t eat it all at once.