It’s looking all-but-impossible for Peter Sagan to take a record-extending eighth green jersey at the Tour de France.
The Slovak star was bettered by points classification leader Sam Bennett in both the final and intermediate sprint in Friday’s stage into Champagnole, and with that, the Irishman moves into an all-but unbeatable 55-point lead in the chase for the green jersey.
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“I tried in every way possible today to go for the win, and the team did its best to make that option happen,” Sagan reflected after the Tour’s 19th stage, a day that saw him outnumbered and outmaneuvered at key moments.
Bora-Hansgrohe threw all it had into the final stage as the team looked to set up a sprint for Sagan to contest for the haul of points available at both the intermediate sprint and final kick in Champagnole, only to repeatedly find itself swamped by opportunists gambling on one of the final opportunities to snatch a stage at the race.
Having been forced into controlling the race after Deceuninck-Quick-Step sent Remi Cavagna on a long solo break at the start of the day, Bora-Hansgrohe kept a lid on the tempo for the opening hours. However, as the intermediate sprint beckoned on the horizon, the race gained momentum and the German team was left attempting to control the uncontrollable.
“We tried to control it before the intermediate sprint, but then only one rider was in front, and he went more and more slowly,” Bora-Hansgrohe director Enrico Poitschke said after the stage. “Before the sprint, the attacks started to go from the peloton and the gap was closed, and then after the sprint, more and more riders attacked, and we were trying to control it and it didn’t really work .. and then we also had to follow attacks.”
The last hour of racing saw Sagan try to keep a leash on chaos after an elite group of classics riders went clear, with the Slovakian left isolated in a dozen rouleurs that included the likes of Oliver Naesen, Jasper Stuyven, Matteo Trentin, Luka Mezgec, and Greg Van Avermaet.
“When we broke away with about 30km to go, the group grew to 12 riders and there were four teams I think that had two riders in there,” Sagan said. “As a result, it was impossible for me to respond to all the attacks on my own.”
A handful of speculative attacks flew out of the group chasing down lone leader Søren Kragh Andersen, and Sagan was quick to close them down, with Bennett shadowing his every move. However, as the group rumbled in toward the finish line in Champagnole, the elastic finally snapped, and Stuyen, Mezgec and a handful more jumped away to take the battle for the podium slots behind Andersen.
Just to rub salt in the wound, Bennett nipped Sagan to the line in the group behind, taking eighth on the stage and denying him a further four points.
“He wasn’t complaining, he knows the deal,” Bennett said after a cagey final which had sent many an angry glance thrown his way. “I know it’s happened to him so many times in the past that it must be frustrating for him, and I’d do the same if I was in his position. I’d do everything I can to get the other guy off my wheel.”
With just a sprint on the Champs-Élysées remaining to recoup points, Sagan’s run of taking the green jersey at every Tour he has finished since 2012 is most likely over. The only year out of the previous eight that he had failed to get into green was 2018, when he was booted from the race after his dangerous sprint brought down Mark Cavendish on the stage into Vittel.
However, for Sagan and Bora-Hansgrohe, the race isn’t over until the finish line in Paris on Sunday.
“Once again, we gave our best and I will certainly give it my all to try and win in Paris,” Sagan said.