LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France (AP) — World champion Peter Sagan won a sprint finish to claim the second stage of the Tour de France and the race’s overall lead on Sunday, while Chris Froome had a calmer ride after his tumble in the first leg.
Sagan won the mostly flat 113.4-mile leg from Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to the department capital of La Roche-sur-Yon in just over four hours. The Slovakian rider for Bora-Hansgrohe edged Sonny Colbrelli at the finish line after a short uphill push.
“It was really a hard sprint,” Sagan said. “It was climbing a little bit in a headwind and already the last five kilometers were up and down. It was a mess.”
Sagan, the three-time reigning world champion, came up short in the opening stage’s sprint when he crossed second behind Fernando Gaviria, who won on his Tour debut.
The second stage looked like it would feature another duel between the veteran Sagan and new star Gaviria.
But Gaviria was involved in a group pileup inside the three-kilometer zone that neutralizes the impact of accidents and could do nothing to stop Sagan from claiming a six-second overall lead and the yellow jersey.
Sagan powered to the front of a group of about a dozen sprinters hunting the victory, reaching a speed of 57.6 kph on the final 500 meters on his way to the finish line. With Colbrelli about to catch him, Sagan thrust forward to ensure victory.
“It’s a perfect day,” Sagan said. “I was a bit scared because Sonny was coming back strong.”
The Tour de France continues Monday with a team time trial, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).
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A year ago, Sagan was kicked out of the Tour after race organizers ruled he caused a crash that broke the shoulder blade of Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish to end Stage 4.
The 28-year-old Sagan said this win means that “I’m really back” following his disqualification from the 2017 Tour.
It was his ninth career win at cycling’s biggest event.
Froome, who fell into a ditch near the end of Saturday’s opening stage, arrived safely with most of the peloton.
Froome is 1:07 behind Sagan’s leading time as he pursues a fifth Tour title. Despite being cleared of doping allegations on Monday, some skeptical fans have jeered the Kenyan-born British rider since his Sky team arrived in France.
The Tour remains in western France for Stage 3 on Monday with its first team time trial since 2015. The 35.5-kilometer loop starts and finishes in Cholet.
Title contenders Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet are 16 seconds behind Sagan, giving them an early advantage over Froome.
BMC’s Richie Porte is level with Froome with their respective teams looking to do well on the team time trial.
Two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana is 1:31 back after he lost time following the puncture of both his tires near the end of Stage 1.
After the first stage that hugged the Atlantic coast, the race rolled inland through green pastures, forest groves and yellow wheat fields baked by the summer sun.
Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Michael Gogl (Trek-Segafredo) set off on a breakaway after the start, but the 39-year-old Chavanel soon shed the other two in his record 18th Tour participation.
Chavanel, who has said this will be his last Tour, soaked up applause from French fans on his solo run, and he even had time to raise his arms in celebration as he passed through the crowds that lined the road midway through the stage. He was absorbed by the peloton with 13K left.
Ethiopia’s Tsgabu Grmay became the first rider to abandon the race. His Trek-Segafredo team said he was suffering “intense abdominal pain.”
Astana climber Luis Leon Sanchez later called it quits after he fell and bloodied his left arm.
The three-week Tour ends July 29 in Paris.
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