BERN (AFP) – Peter Sagan said he was lucky to pip Alexander Kristoff in a photo finish to the Tour de France 16th stage on Monday — and admitted he initially thought he had come second.
At first glance Norway s Kristoff seemed to have won, but a close inspection showed the world champion Sagan had edged past him by the rubber on his front wheel.
“I was not waiting for the results, I thought I was second until they came and told me I had won. It s unbelievable after so many times finishing second,” said Sagan, who has been second 17 times on Tour stages.
The Slovak, who won his third Tour stage this year and seventh in total, said it was a technical mistake that cost Kristoff what would have been his third stage success at the race after two in 2014.
“You can see from the final picture – I ve lost a lot of times like this, by a very small piece of tyre,” said Sagan, 26.
“Today I was lucky. Alexander just made his jump on the line very late, I jumped before. When you jump you have to pull the bike on the front – at that moment he was pulling on the back, not on the front.”
For race leader Chris Froome, who finished safely in a much-reduced peloton alongside his main overall rivals, there s nothing lucky about what Sagan does.
“He s a phenomenal rider — most people in the peloton are scared of him,” said the 31-year-old Briton.
“It s just his ability – he can do everything. He chooses when he wants to go in a breakaway, how he wants to ride the finish. I m actually surprised he didn t attack on that last climb and ride away solo, but he still managed to win the stage.”
The finish to the 209km 16th stage from Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern in Switzerland had a tough climb just before the sprint to the line. It proved selective with most of the pure sprinters unable to keep up.
Only Mark Cavendish did, but the Briton, a winner of four stages this year and 30 in total, used up all his energy in doing so and was unable to position himself for the sprint finish.
It turned into a battle between Sagan and Kristoff, with Norwegian Sondre Holst Enger taking third.
Froome still leads by 1min 47sec overall from Dutchman Bauke Mollema ahead of Tuesday s rest day, before four Alpine stages from Wednesday.
Given the tough drag up to the finish, some pure sprinters had already decided they d be having a quiet day.
“I don t think it s really a stage for me. With the two bumps in the finale, it s more for riders like Sagan or (Michael) Matthews,” said German Andre Greipel.
“But I think it s also a great day for a breakaway because everybody s tired and it s before the rest day and nobody will really want to chase.”
That was certainly the attitude taken by his great German sprint rival Marcel Kittel s Etixx team.
German time-trial specialist Tony Martin set off on one of his epic escapades alongside young French Etixx team-mate Julian Alaphilippe, who was heading for victory on Sunday before his chain stuck.
However, the Tinkoff and Katusha teams of Sagan and Kristoff had other ideas and chased hard.
By the 83km mark the front two s lead reached its apex, at almost six minutes, but it came down quickly over the final 100km.
Inside the final 30km, they had less than a minute and 5km later Alaphilippe had given up, with Martin resisting only another 2.5km.
That provoked a counter-attack from former world champion Rui Costa of Portugal, but he was caught 4.5km from the finish, and thereafter it was all about Sagan and Kristoff.