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Tour de France

Sagan tops sprinters heading to Tour de France

Peter Sagan looks to be the top sprinter heading into the Tour de France. The world champion may earn his 100th victory in July.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is outshining his sprint rivals with less than two weeks until the Tour de France begins. He won again this weekend in the Tour de Suisse — his sixth victory in 2017.

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The Slovakian sprinted to two stage victories in Switzerland. In Saturday’s stage in Schaffhausen, wearing the black points jersey instead of his usual rainbow jersey, he won ahead of Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates).

“I pulled on the points jersey and won two stages, bringing my total to 15 [at Tour de Suisse], while the team put in a solid effort and showed great professionalism,” said Sagan.

“I’m also satisfied with my form — I think my recent high altitude training camp [in Utah] was productive. This also gives me a good feeling ahead of the Tour de France.

“My focus will now turn to the Slovak national championship next Sunday, which is always a complicated race, and then, of course, the Tour de France.”

Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) should be Sagan’s top rivals in the Tour, starting July 1 in Düsseldorf.

Kittel, who is negotiating a new 2018 contract behind the scenes, appears sharp. He won Sunday in the Dutch Ster ZLM tour to bring his season total to nine.

Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) won two stages in the ZLM tour. He, Italian Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), and Australian Michael Matthews (Sunweb) will each be sprinting for their first stage wins in the Grande Boucle.

Also at the ZLM tour, Greipel’s best result was second in stage 3. His last win came at the Giro d’Italia in stage 2.

Cavendish, who counts 30 Tour stage wins, will be aiming for Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34. If he races, he could be the true Sagan stopper. However, he has been off the bike for nearly three months recovering from glandular fever. He just returned to racing in June.

A second place Sunday in the Tour of Slovenia was a step in the right direction. Cavendish wrote on Twitter, “If you’d told me I’d be anywhere near a win this week, I’d have laughed at you. 1st time I’m happy with 2nd.”

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Sagan will be heading for career win number 100 in the Tour after bringing his tally to 95 with the Suisse win. He knocked on wood when it was mentioned to him Saturday.

In his favor, Sagan can blast down wide avenues as well as climb to victory. In stage 3, the Tour finishes in Longwy on the Côte de Religieus. The 1.6-kilometer climb at 5.8 percent could see Sagan sprint head to head with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). Sagan took his first of seven Tour de France wins in 2012 on a similar finish in Seraing, Belgium.

Sagan won three Tour stages in 2016. Any victory this year would be a gift for Bora-Hansgrohe. Only 12 months ago, rumors circulated that Sagan could leave Tinkoff for the German team. The deal became official later in the summer and with Sagan, the team joined the top WorldTour division.

Monday, Bora-Hansgrohe announced its pre-race press conference in a pop-up Specialized store in Dusseldorf. The American bicycle company helped make the €4 million ($4.48m) Sagan deal happen.

Sagan will look to prove his worth in the season’s biggest race. His 2017 classics campaign was consistent but lacked a signature victory. He finished second in Milano-Sanremo, third in Gent-Wevelgem, and he won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. However, Sagan didn’t win a monument, which may have been disappointing for the 2016 Tour of Flanders champion. With a pre-Tour build-up via California and Switzerland, Sagan’s big moment is arriving in Bora’s home country, Germany, where the 2017 Tour de France will start.

Sports Director Jan Valach said, “The guys worked well [in the Tour de Suisse], had strong legs and in my opinion, we are on the right track for the Tour de France.”