Tour de France: Sagan takes stage as Froome finishes in the lead group
World champion wins crash-marred stage to La Roche-sur-Yon
Peter Sagan (left) wins the sprint ahead of Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli (right) and France’s Arnaud Demare (centre) in the second stage of the Tour de France between Mouilleron-Saint-Germain and La Roche-sur-Yon. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Sagan took the overall lead in the Tour de France following an uphill sprint win in La Roche-Sur-Yon after another hectic finale saw a major crash on the final bend and yet more splits in the field.
Among the fallers during the latter half of the stage was Adam Yates, although he recovered to rejoin the peloton. Chris Froome, meanwhile, a day after tumbling into a field, was this time on the right side of the gaps, and finished in the lead group of 117 riders, which included most of the main contenders.
“Obviously crashing is never much fun,” Froome said of his stage one spill, “so I’m just glad I wasn’t more injured yesterday. Looking ahead, the legs feel good so I’m optimistic about what is to come hopefully.”
Froome’s teammate Luke Rowe took a pragmatic approach when asked if Froome’s crash had dented morale. “No one died did they? We just lost 50 seconds with one guy. I don’t think there is any need for a sombre mood. That is racing and it’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone was particularly too bothered.”
Sagan’s prowess in uphill sprints and his uncanny ability to stay upright shone through as the peloton entered the final kilometre with the triple world champion once again threading his way through the chaos, while others, including overnight race leader Fernando Gaviria and rival sprinter Michael Matthews, came to grief.
Monday’s 35.5km team time trial, based on Cholet, offers Froome another chance to make inroads into his deficit and may also offer his team mate, Geraint Thomas, Sky’s best-placed rider, a hope of claiming the maillot jaune from race leader Sagan.
“The goal is to win the stage,” Thomas said, “and hopefully with that comes the yellow jersey and some time in the standings. Whether it plays out like that way, who knows, we’ll wait and see. But I think the goal of every one will be full gas.”
Push the limit
The Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford acknowledged that it would be the Tour’s first major rendezvous. “It’s where you have got to push the limit more than ever. But it is technical as well, so you can’t make an error. The margin for error in terms of going too hard or making a slight technical error, you will pay for it massively.
“We’ve got to get an absolutely perfect execution and in order to do that you focus on the process and you don’t worry on the outcome. But there is no doubt about it that there will be time gained and lost tomorrow, that is inevitable.”
But for a lacklustre Mark Cavendish, it was as his team manager Doug Ryder said, “another missed opportunity”. Cavendish still looks far short of the flying form that has taken him to 30 stage wins in past Tours, four short of equaling Eddy Merckx’s record of 34.
“It’s a common misconception that a sprint day is an easy day,” Cavendish said at the finish. “There’s more stress in these days because everybody is there, whereas in the mountains you’ve got the climbers ahead and it sorts itself out.
“There’s this battle going on constantly and that makes it more stressful,” said the 33-year-old. “It takes the energy, goes and goes, from concentrating. When it comes to the end everybody’s so tired with mental fatigue that’s when accidents happen.”
Asked if the supposed safety measure of the reduction in team size, from nine riders to eight, in Grand Tours had made the racing safer, Cavendish said “not at all”.
Sagan shared the sentiment. “Being safe in the peloton is about the riders, not about the numbers,” he said.
Slowly but surely the chances for Cavendish to close on Merckx’s record are ebbing away, as it seems is his morale. Asked if his form had improved he said: “Results wise, no, but I felt better today. It’s easier said than done, though.”
Plagued by crashes this spring, Cavendish has struggled for form all season. His task during this Tour has been made harder by the absence of long-term road captain Bernhard Eisel, who has been sidelined from this year’s race after sustaining a head injury following a crash this spring.
For now his Dimension Data team are backing him. “We are committed to Mark,” Ryder said. “He’s a great champion and champions don’t come overnight. Mark is committed to making this happen and trying to be as successful as he can be. Everybody will focus to do a better job.”