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Sagan wins stage 1 of the 2013 Tour of Alberta

Peter Sagan won stage 1 of the Tour of Alberta on Wednesday in Camrose, Alberta. Sagan (Cannondale) over-powered a strong push by the Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies leadout for his second win in two days at the six-day Canadian tour.

Eric Young (Optum) was second in the 158-kilometer leg from Strathcona County and Moreno Hofland (Belkin) was third.

With the win, Sagan defended his overall lead, which he earned with his prologue victory on Tuesday night in Edmonton.

Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly-Kenda) followed the day’s intermediate sprint at Fort Saskatchewan with a solo attack. When the peloton stopped for a nature call, Jeremy Vennell (Bissell), Marc Goos (Belkin), and William Clarke (Argos-Shimano) jumped across to join the former U.S. cyclocross national champion in the day’s long breakaway.

A fast pace (the peloton nearly exceeded the fastest predicted speed of 45 kph set by race organizers) kept things quiet in the bunch for the bulk of the day, but Powers’ U.S. champion teammate Freddie Rodriguez crashed hard in a ditch with roughly 20km remaining. Rodriguez got up holding his left hip and two teammates helped him back to the peloton.

“There were a lot of rocks on that corner. I took it wide and just flatted, and when the wheel flatted it sideswiped, and it rolled and then crunched the carbon and I went flying. I’m a little beat up,” said Rodriguez. “Forty-year-old guys shouldn’t be crashing. I still tried to go for it, but I probably was a little nervous into that last corner [of the sprint] to take chances, and was too far back.”

The breakaway carried a 55-second advantage into the final 11km along the finishing circuit in Camrose. Clarke attacked across the line to enter the first of three trips around the circuit, dumping his three companions into no-man’s land, just 40 seconds ahead of the Cannondale-led bunch.

None of them could hold off Sagan’s green-clad teammates, however, and the stage was set for a bunch finish in the final 2km — but not until after 2012 Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) attacked through the finish on the penultimate lap and sat up to celebrate an assumed victory.

“We were told and it was in our head that there were three laps [of the finishing circuit], and it was a pretty intense circuit, and I didn’t even look at the lap counter or anything,” said Hesjedal. “I was just in the zone … the Ks seemed right in the speedo [computer]. Sometimes you can tell a little bit, and even in the last time going into it, it felt like we were racing for the finish. Then after a little bit I felt like it was a little too good to be true. I was kind of half committed to saluting, because I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened. Yeah. I can’t say I’ve done that before, so there’s a first time for everything.”

A lap later, Optum launched early, with Young leading out Ryan Anderson, twice second to Sagan at the USA Pro Challenge in August. Anderson missed the jump, however, and the Slovak champion took Young’s wheel, then left the U.S. criterium champion behind in the final 50 meters.

“I was trying to lead him out, actually,” said Young. “When I looked over my shoulder there was as bit of a gap, and that kind of changes the game, so I had to give it my best shot. But Sagan was good enough to come around me.”

Sagan said the wind at the finish gave him time to come around the American.

“Eric starts too early, and I saw this, and the sprint, it was wind in the head, so that was good,” said Sagan. “He started I think too early, and it was better for me.”

Now a winner of six stages between the USA Pro Challenge in August and the first two days in Alberta, Sagan said he wanted six cowboy hats — one of the prizes awarded the stage winner in Canada.

“For everyone riding on the team,” he said. “Six.”

The 1st Tour of Alberta continues Thursday with the 174km second stage, from Devon to Red Deer.

VeloNews contributor Mike Marino contributed to this report.

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