Peter Sagan likes a challenge. Just as he fought to the very last meter in Stavanger, Norway, last fall to win the world road championship for the third year running so he started this 105th Tour de France with a goal in mind: to win the green jersey for a sixth time after being unfairly disqualified last year. Sagan, who won green in his first five Tours (2012–16), aims to match the six-time record set by German sprinter Erik Zabel between 1996 and 2001. He was on target last year, winning stage 3, when his Tour was cut short at the end of stage 4; and he’s already started this year’s race with a second place on stage 1.
Words: John Wilcockson/Images: James Startt
Twelve months ago, in a tumultuous sprint finish to the stage into Vittel, Sagan’s right elbow collided with Mark Cavendish, who smashed into the barriers, fell to the road and fractured his shoulder blade. The race judges ejected Sagan from the Tour for “endangering several riders.” His Bora-Hansgrohe team appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and last December the legal battle ended when CAS agreed that “the crash was an unfortunate and unintentional race incident.”
On his return to the Tour, Sagan says he’s back on good terms with Cavendish after chatting with him at the recent Tour of California. As for this 2018 Tour, the Slovak superstar said in his pre-race press conference: “Our goal is always to keep ourselves safe…out of crash…if I can pick up some stages then great. The green jersey is also a goal.”
Although he’s not the fastest sprinter on flat roads, Sagan knows that he can always be competitive, and that’s what he showed on Saturday’s opening stage along the windswept Atlantic coast from Noirmoutier to Fontenay-le-Comte in the Vendée Region of western France. He was able to relax for most of the 189 kilometers, happy to see the teams of the other green jersey contenders—including Cavendish, Arnaud Démare, Fernando Gaviria and André Greipel—do the pacemaking to control a three-man breakaway that began in the very first kilometer. It was a straightforward stage on roads lined with vacationers enjoying the warm sunshine. But when it mattered Sagan was near the head of the peloton. That enabled him to avoid the dramatic crashes that split the race in the final 10 kilometers and saw many of the Tour’s overall favorites lose significant time.
Sagan sent his teammates to the front with 5 kilometers left, to prepare for the final sprint, which he narrowly lost to Quick-Step Floors sprint king Gaviria.
The Quest continues…