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Sagan takes over at Romandie

Sagan has had a great first year as a pro. | Graham Watson photo
Sagan has had a great first year as a pro. | Graham Watson photo

Frustrated by his runner-up spot behind HTC-Columbia’s Marco Pinotti in Tuesday’s prologue at the Tour de Romandie, the extraordinary talent known as Peter Sagan took his revenge Wednesday by winning the first road stage and earning a 10-second time bonus that gave him the overall lead

“We knew there was a chance I could take the yellow jersey,” the modest 20-year-old Slovakian said, “so that was the team’s plan today. We had to get rid of the main sprinters and that’s why we rode hard on the last climb.”

That climb was the 4.3km-long Mont de Buttes, 43km from the finish, where HTC’s Mark Cavendish was one of seven sprinters in a group of 45 that was left behind The other 111 riders regrouped by the finish in Fleurier for a wild mass sprint. Sagan wasn’t deterred by the prospect even though this was the first time he was contesting a field sprint in his four-month-old pro career. (The two stage wins he took at Paris-Nice in March were solo efforts out of small groups.)

“It was chaos in the finale, with lots of attacks causing problems,” Sagan said, “so I decided to make a very long effort.” Not only was it a long effort, but it was also a sprint full of the power that nearly won him Tuesday’s prologue time trial. He went so fast for so long that none of the sprinters left in the front group — including Robbie Hunter of Garmin-Transitions, Ben Swift of Team Sky and Allan Davis of Astana — could get close to him.

The best of the beaten were runner-up Francesco Gavazzi of Lampre-Farnese and Irish champion Nicolas Roche of AG2R-La Mondiale — who took his fourth third-place of the season.

Sagan says he doesn’t expect to keep the yellow jersey through to the finish on Sunday. “Our leader is still Romain Kreuziger,” he said, referring to the defending Romandie champion who comes from the Czech Republic, next door to Sagan’s Slovakia. “Romain is a better climber than me, and the last two stages are both in the Alps.”

Beyer in the break

American Chad Beyer joined the day's long break. | Graham Watson photo
American Chad Beyer joined the day's long break. | Graham Watson photo

Wednesday’s stage through the limestone mountains of the Jura was full of climbs, beside the three official ones. And several of them were very steep, such as the 4km climb to Saucy, which started with a 14-percent wall. But this Cat. 1 climb came early in the 175.6km stage and the peloton was in sleep mode at that point, riding some nine minutes behind the day’s main breakaway that went clear after an initial 20km loop out of Porrentruy.

The three men who were allowed to escape were FDJ’s French rookie Thibaut Pinot, a month shy of his 20th birthday; Astana’s promising Kazakh Andrey Zeits, 23; and BMC Racing’s American hope Chad Beyer, also 23. The three young men stayed clear most of the warm, gusty day, with Pinot picking up three KoMs and Beyer the two intermediate sprints.

Pinot went it alone over the last categorized climb, the Mont de Buttes, but he was eventually passed on the day’s final actual climb, with 17km to go, by 2008 Tour de l’Avenir winner Jan Bakelants of Omega-Lotto. The 24-year-old Belgian, one of a new generation of aggressive riders, made a valiant effort to hold on. He remained just 15 seconds ahead of the Liquigas-led peloton for kilometer after kilometer, including a rapid, winding descent into the outrageously green Val de Travers, but he was caught with just 4km remaining.

The Garmin and Lampre teams tried to set things up for their fast finishers, Hunter and Gavazzi, but the fast tempo set by Liquigas enabled Sagan to come through according to plan and blast his way into the victory circle.

He will probably stay in yellow on Thursday after the 171.8km stage 2, which takes in one big loop and a finishing circuit based on the city of Fribourg. The riders will twice tackle the Lorette “wall” that’s less than a kilometer long but has been given a Cat. 1 rating; but the second time is 25km from the finish, and sprinters like Cavendish should be able to hang in and contest the very fast finish.

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