22-year-old Peter Sagan claimed his first Tour de France stage win this afternoon, outsprinting overall leader Fabian Cancellara.
Following victory in yesterday’s prologue, Cancellara proved himself a force to be reckoned with, holding on to both the yellow leader’s and the green sprinter’s jerseys.
Today’s 198kilometre Belgian route finished with a 2.5km slog uphill. The fifth category-four climb of the day, it offered unsavory gradients of up to 14 per cent.
From the start, a group of six riders moved ahead of the main bunch. However, Cancellara’s team Radioshack-Nissan set the peloton’s pace and kept the breakaway within touching distance, catching them 9km from the finish.
As the riders raced along the banks of the river Meuse, sprinter André Greipel led Lotto Belisol’s late charge. The ferocious pace pulled the peloton into single file.
Tour favourite Bradley Wiggins began to drop down the order, disappearing out of sight. But his main rival Cadel Evans was soon chauffeured to the front by veteran George Hincapie, who famously supported Lance Armstrong to victory.
Then, with 2.5 kilometers to go, the ominous climb began. Orica-GreenEdge led the climb in the hope that their sprinter Matt Goss would take the win. Cadel Evans sat firmly on their shoulders.
But it was Cancellara’s move that stuck. “No one is stronger than you,” he was told through his team radio. The Swiss rider, nicknamed Spartacus for his powerful performances, executed his attack with 1.5 steep kilometres still before him.
Sagan, the young Slovak of Liquigas-Cannondale, patiently stuck to his back wheel. Metres from the line he snuck around the outside to make an impressive bid for the green sprinter’s jersey, which Mark Cavendish won last year. Sagan is second in the green jersey competition, trailing Cancellara by six points.
Earlier in the day, Cavendish surprised onlookers by contending the intermediate sprint. The world champion’s effort to collect points signals a possible commitment to defend last year’s green jersey.
The Briton finished second in the peloton’s surge for the intermediate sprint. He was pipped by Matt Goss but came in ahead of André Greipel, both former teammates who he will face in the Olympic road race next month.