Sagan stays cool; Thomas/Froome fend off GC rivals; Americans go dotty; and more of the talking points from stage three of the 2017 Tour de France
Sagan’s far from smooth finish – but it didn’t matter
Unclipping your foot from your pedal during a full-gas uphill sprint would be the undoing of the majority of riders, but not Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). Just as the world champion from Slovakia was winding up his sprint at the head of affairs on the final climb to Longwy on stage three of the Tour de France, his right foot broke free.
Sagan kept calm and amazingly kept in a straight line; looked down and clipped his foot back in. The momentary lapse in speed meant that Classics sparring partner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) started gaining on him.
Perhaps benefitting from a surge of adrenaline as a result of the incident, Sagan simply got back to pedalling and lunged ahead to take his first victory of the 2017 Tour as Van Avermaet faded to fourth.
In the post-race interview, Sagan was asked how he handled the pressure of being pre-stage favourite yet still delivering the win. “What is pressure?” he said, with a laugh, “I don’t know what it is”. You know that he’s not really joking.
Thomas safe in yellow as Froome moves up
After the previous day’s scare, when he crashed along with several other general classification riders including Team Sky leader and defending champion Chris Froome, race leader Geraint Thomas stayed safe on stage three.
Sky positioned themselves in the bunch perfectly, allowing other teams with aspirations on the stage win to take to the front of the peloton while they tucked themselves in from the headwind.
On the final climb, Thomas was shepherded up to the front by Michal Kwiatkowski, who on another day would have been a contender for the stage victory had he not been on team duties. The Polish Milan-San Remo winner has so far been invaluable in looking after his team-mates and played a big part in ensuring that Thomas and Froome finished in eighth and ninth respectively.
Thomas maintained his lead with Froome now moving up to second place overall at 12 seconds – a British one-two. Surely they can’t keep this up for the whole three weeks?
First uphill finish, first battle of the GC riders
Although the stage was billed as one for the Classics riders with its rolling terrain and final hill, it was equally one for the general classification contenders. Richie Porte (BMC) was one of the first riders to animate the finale in Longwy, with Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) also visible at the front.
Just behind them, Thomas and Froome were keenly observing the action and positioning themselves for a good placing and to ensure that no silly time losses were made due to a moment’s inattention.
Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) gained the most out of the potential GC men, placing third behind Sagan and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) to grab some valuable bonus seconds in addition to the physical two-second gap between the lead four riders and group behind.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Fabio Aru (Astana), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), Contador and Porte all finished in the group with Thomas/Froome, with only Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) dropping off the pace slightly to lose a handful of seconds by the finish.
Two Americans in polka dots
American riders have had a relatively quiet time at the Tour de France in recent years, and that looked set to continue when the start list showed just three US riders in attendance, and all with Cannondale-Drapac.
Two of those three riders have already made their mark on the race, with Tour debutant Taylor Phinney putting himself into the break on stage two to scoop the two King of the Mountains points on offer and become only the third American to wear the polka-dot jersey.
Then Nathan Brown repeated Phinney’s feat, getting into the day’s break and taking the lion’s share of the KOM points to relieve his team-mate from the red-spotted jersey. It’s the first time that two Americans have ever worn the mountains jersey in the same race – and Phinney and Brown’s antics have ensured that the number of Americans to have worn the jersey in history has doubled in just three days of racing.
Andrew Talansky is Cannondale-Drapac’s third American, and there must now be some kind of expectation for him to follow his team-mares and countrymen in making an impression on the 2017 Tour.
Luxembourg made its mark
After two days featuring the landscape of Germany at the start of the race and then into Belgium, the Tour headed south through Luxembourg and into France for the first time. That meant that we were treated to aerial television shots of chateaux for the first time this year… and it has to be said, the number and quality of them could rival France.
This may have little bearing on bike racing – but if there’s one thing that is pretty much unique to professional cycling, it’s having an ever-changing and beautiful backdrop. And that’s one of the reasons we love it. Luxembourg may be small compared to its European neighbours, but it held its own, with twisting roads and testing climbs that have been largely absent so far.
It’s briefly back into Luxembourg for the start of stage four on Tuesday, with a relatively straightforward stage to Vittel that should favour sprinters.