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Peter Sagan takes victory in first Tour road stage
Jul 2nd, 12. Stage 1. In the first Tour de France road stage of his brief career, 22 year old Peter Sagan notched up his first Tour victory after a short but intense three rider uphill battle.
Sagan (Liquigas Cannondale) won the 198km Liege to Seraing stage ahead of prologue winner and yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Nissan Trek) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky).
Remarkably, the young rider said in his post race interview he was disappointed not have recorded a time gap ahead of Cancellara.
"It bothered me a little not to be able to make a gap - he's pretty strong though," he said of Cancellara.
"I think it was better to save a little energy, and I won, that's just it - I don't really know what to say."
Pre-stage favourite Philippe Gilbert (BMC) finished 4th, one of 47 riders to be given the same time as Sagan.
Notably missing from the front group were GC riders Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma Quickstep) +17sec, Chris Horner (RadioShack Nissan Trek) +1m29s, Peter Velits (Omega Pharma Quickstep) +1m52s and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +4m07s.
The last 20km were raced at super high speed - 74km/h on the flat just before the climb - as the peloton caught the day's break and battled to get their top riders in perfect position ahead of the final 2.4km climb to the finish line.
In the first, and steepest, section it was Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma Quickstep) who opened up proceedings but it was Cancellara's move which proved decisive.
When the Swiss rider attacked, only Sagan could follow. Boasson Hagen then bridged to the duo making a three rider finale with Cancellara on the front.
In the final few metres, and with the peloton surging behind them, Sagan popped out from behind Cancellara's wheel to take the win.
Today's success takes the Slovakian's victory tally to 14 for the season - more than any other World Tour rider.
"Today's win was a difficult one and it made me understand what's so special about the Tour compared with other races: so many people at the side of the road cheering you on, journalists from all over the world looking at you, a very high tempo race and you mustn't ever lose your concentration ... well, you can tell straightway that it's different," said Sagan.
"Now I mustn't get carried away with all the excitement. I've always planned to race this Tour one day at a time and that's what I'll do until we get to Paris. The green jersey? It's a dream; let's see if I can make it come true."
Cancellara remains in yellow with the same 7sec time gap back to Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) on the General Classification.
How the day panned outThe 198km course included five Cat 4 climbs - the côte de Francorchamps (at 49km), the côte de Lierneux (at 94km), the côte de Barvaux (at 139km) and the final rise in Seraing.
Early break and chase
As soon racing began, Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) attacked. He was joined by Michael Morkov (SaxoBank Tinkoff Bank), Maxime Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel Euskadi), Anthony Delaplace (Saur Sojasun) and Yohann Gene (Europcar).
By the 11km mark they already had a lead of 3min on the peloton.
The best on GC of this group was Morkov who was 51st in the prologue (24sec behind Cancellara).
It was at 11km that Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quickstep) and Robbie Hunter (Garmin Sharp) were caught up in a crash but they quickly rejoined the peloton. Martin consulted the race doctor numerous times in the opening hour. The early reports were that he had a sore wrist and had lost some skin on his legs.
Then the pace of the chase eased and, with 70km to go, the bunch was behind by 4'00". Morkov and Urtasun raced ahead for the point of the fourth climb and the Danish rider won that duel. He will wear the polka-dot jersey in stage two.
Setting up for the final climb - and a few crashes
Until about 45km to go, RadioShack accepted that it had to take charge of the chasing duties but with the escapees only 1m25s ahead, several other teams moved to the front of the bunch, including Lotto-Belisol, BMC, Orica-GreenEdge and Sky. The advantage never grew again.
With 23km to go, Michael Rogers (Team Sky), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Joaquim Rojas (Movistor) were caught in a fall.
Just as they remounted another crash occurred in the middle of the peloton that involved Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Maxime Monfort (RadioShack Nissan Trek) all riders who fell remounted their bikes. With 20km to go, the bunch was trailing by 25sec.
Sagan's perfect debut!
The first true attack came from Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma Quickstep) with about 2.5km to go and he was chased down by Michael Albasini (Orica Green Edge) but their move only served to force the hand of Cancellara who, as he's done so well before in the Tour of Flanders, bolted into the lead with an impressive surge on the steepest part of the final climb.
He was marked by Peter Sagan (Liquigas) and the pair had a solid lead but it wasn't enough to deter Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky). The Norwegian bridged and, in the final 600m the trio was set to contest the stage win.
Cancelllara urged a turn from the others as the peloton closed in quickly on the false flat but Sagan didn't budge: he only took the lead when he opened up his sprint inside the final 200m. Cancellara tried to hold him off but to no avail... the Liquigas team won the day and the yellow jersey was second over the line.
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