Peter Sagan put disappointment behind him and blasted past his rivals to secure victory on stage five of the Tour de France 2019.
The former world champion was among a swathe of lighter sprinters who survived the first mountain tests of this year’s Tour to fight for the win in Colmar.
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As a large peloton made it into the final kilometres, Mitchelton-Scott set the pace with Daryl Impey leading out European champion Matteo Trentin, who opened his sprint first.
But the Italian faded as Sagan went wide and overpowered his rivals to take his first victory of this year’s Tour.
Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert once again proved his bunch sprinting talent and took second on the stage, with Trentin settling for third.
Julian Alaphilippe wasn’t able to fight for a second stage win but finished safely in the bunch to hold onto his race lead.
How it happened
Stage five of the Tour de France 2019 proved divisive amongst experts, with some suggesting the foray into the Vosges mountain range would benefit a strong breakaway, while those on the other side of the fence believed the versatile sprinters could survive the climbs to set up a reduced bunch sprint.
The 175.5km run took the peloton from Saint-Dié-des-Vosges to Colmar near the German border, via the least direct route possible, with four categorised côtes to tackle on the way.
After a gentle uncategorised climb to start the day, the first real challenge was the third category Côte de Grendelbruch (3.4km at 5.5 per cent average gradient), which topped out 44km into the stage, followed by a mellow middle section with no notable features.
The action was expected to start within the final 70km, starting with the second category Côte due Haut-Koeninsbourg at 5.9km and 5.9 per cent – which topped out a long way from the finish but threatened to soften up the peloton.
Into the final 40km and the race followed the tough final two climbs of the day – the Côte des Trois-Epis (4.9 km at 6.9 per cent) and the Côte des Cinq Chateux (5.3km at 6.3 per cent), which crested 35 and 25km from the finish respectively.
After the descent from the Cinq Chateaux, the race culminated in a 10km flat and straight run to the line.
The unpredictable parcours sparked an immediate tense fight to get in the breakaway when the flag dropped, with specialist Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) taking six other riders clear.
But the peloton were alert to the danger and closed down the group within 10km, a flurry of unsuccessful attacks and half-formed escapes following.
It took more than 20km of racing before a break finally took shape, with Toms Skujinš (Trek-Segafredo), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Simon Clarke (EF Education First) and Mads Würtz (Katusha-Alpecin) setting the pace at the front.
Sunweb, Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe made their intentions clear by pulling on the front of the peloton, never allowing the escapees a significant gap as they were held to within 2-30 all day.
Wellens led the race over the first two climbs of the day to extend his advantage in the King of the Mountain classification.
The steady pace continued until the slopes of the Trois-Epis, as Würtz was dropped from the front group and Latvian national champion Skujinš attacked Wellens and Clarke with 37km left to race.
That penultimate climb also took its toll in the peloton, with all of the major sprinters dropped including Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), while Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews held their own in the bunch.
Skujinš led the race over that climb, with Wellens and Clarke finally caught by the chasers 30km from the finish.
After a formidable 15km-long solo attack, Skujinš’s legs finally gave in and he was caught before the top of the final climb, the Côte des Cinq Chateaux.
The surprisingly complete peloton make it over the top locked together, as the hopefuls for the stage assumed their position on the front during the descent.
Race leader Alaphilippe led from the front with 10km left to race, with an assortment of stage and general classification favourites on his wheel.
Sunweb were clearly the most determined team with the hopes of setting up Matthews, with Sagan and Wout van Aert also present at the head of affairs.
One of the most admirable rides came from Dimension Data’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, who was dropped on the slopes of the final climb and fell a minute behind the peloton, only to give everything on the descent to chase his way back into the bunch with 8km to the line.
UAE Team Emirates rider Rui Costa was the first to try his luck on the final flat section, firing out the front of the bunch and pulling out a 14-second gap with 5km to the line.
The former world champion challenged the peloton, but Bora, Jumbo-Visma and Sunweb still had plenty of riders left to chase behind, stacking the odds against him. He was caught at the 2km banner, setting up the bunch sprint.
Into the final two curves, Mitchelton-Scott led the charge with South African national champion Daryl Impey, who opened up his lead-out sprint with 400 metres to the line.
Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven was well placed on Impey’s wheel with Trentin in third wheel and Sagan in fourth.
Green jersey Sagan was shadowed by CCC Team’s Greg Van Avermaet, while Van Aert trailed his countryman in sixth position.
Impey faded a long way from the line forcing Trentin to open his sprint on the right hand side of the road 200m out, with Stuyven pursuing.
Sagan opted to switch to the left and went out wide, powering his way well clear of Trentin’s front wheel and moving back across to the middle lane, crossing the line with his hands raised off the bars.
Van Aert used Trentin’s shelter to come from nowhere and sneak second, Trentin third.
It was disappointment for Sunweb who had put in so much work to hold the break close, with Michael Matthews only managing seventh, while race leader Alaphilippe took 10th.
The Tour continues with the first real mountain test on stage six – 160.5km from Mulhouse to the brutal Planche des Belles Filles climb, which will test the general classification riders’ climbing legs for the first time.
Tour de France 2019, stage five: Saint-Dié-des-Vosges to Colmar (175.5k)
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-03-33
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
3. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team
6. Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Crédits
7. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb
8. Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin
9. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
10. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, all at same time
General classification after stage five
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 18-44-12
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at 14 seconds
3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 25s
4. George Bennett (Nzl) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, at 40s
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Ineos, at same time
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Ineos, at 45s
8. Enric Mas (Esp) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 46s
9. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 50s
10. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team, at 51s