A white jersey zoomed up the left side of the road like a rocket, barely coming up short of stage winner André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal). Peter Sagan’s late charge showed he is back to full strength after a dismal first half to the year.
“I was simply too far back in 10th position with a hundred meters to go and I couldn’t catch Greipel. It’s hard to beat a rider like him, and I’m happy with my second place,” Sagan said after the stage in a Tinkoff-Saxo statement.
Storming onto the Tour de France scene in 2012, Sagan won three stages and in the process, became the first rider born in the 1990s to win a stage at the Tour. Appearing nearly unbeatable, Sagan’s win total has dropped off recently. In 2013, he won 22 races. Last year, Sagan netted only seven race victories.
Lacking a coveted stage win in 2014, the Slovak champion has not won a stage at the Tour since his trip to Albi in stage 7, back in 2013. This drought has lasted 40 stages and counting, but the tide appears to be turning.
This year, the 25-year-old is carefully balancing his own ambitions and those of his team at the Tour, as Tinkoff-Saxo attempts to help Contador pull off the elusive Giro-Tour double. This was clear when he made a massive pull to close a gap after Contador got caught on the wrong end of a split, coming off the final section of cobblestones on stage 4. More impressive, Sagan finished third on that stage, second in the bunch sprint after Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) soloed to the stage win.
On stage 5, he took his chances again, but only after he knew Contador was safely on his way to the line. “I was free to do my own race in the last five kilometers, and I tried to position myself, but a lot of riders came from behind, and I had too many meters to make up in the final hundred meters.
With three podium finishes in the first five stages, Sagan’s good form has shown through, despite the usual perils of the Tour’s first week. “It was also very crazy today with rain, wind, and a lot crashes, and I’m happy with how we finished. Everybody wants to be at the front on a day like this to protect their team leaders and that creates tension in the group.”
“Peter [Sagan] was second in the sprint, and it shows that he is strong,” sport director Steven de Jongh said after the stage. “We are not here with a lead-out train, and Peter also plays an important role during the stage. However, in the sprints he can do his own thing, and today he came really close.”
Sagan may not have a lead-out train, but he has shown the ability to surf wheels when it comes to the finale. Australian sprinter, Robbie McEwan, made a career out of doing this and retired with 12 career Tour stage wins.
Looking ahead, the coming stages may be opportune for Sagan to end his winless streak at the Tour. Thursday’s stage 6 from Abbeville to Le Harve has a tough 850-meter cat. 4 climb in the last two kilometers. Finishing along the coast, the stage could see echelons, and Sagan may have to use energy to keep Contador safe. Also, two days later, the stage 8 finish atop the Mur de Bretagne looks tailor-made for the Slovak speedster.
“We will see what happens tomorrow, it will depend on the conditions and if there is wind, because I want to help and protect Alberto [Contador] but maybe I can do a good result in the finale.” Sagan said. He has clearly embraced his role as protector and seems content to sacrifice himself for Contador, despite his winless streak at the Tour.