Fa­mil­iar story

Un­lucky Sa­gan sec­ond-best again as leader Froome stays cool

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JOHN LE­ICES­TER

Peter Sa­gan might be the un­luck­i­est rider at the Tour de France. “So close yet so far” could be his nick­name.

With a few more pumps on his ped­als, a few more ounces of speed and power, the spunky Slo­vakian could have won four stages by now.

In­stead, he has four sec­ond places.

He blamed only him­self for the latest ad­di­tion Fri­day to his un­wanted col­lec­tion.

In a man-to-man duel on an up­hill fi­nal sprint against Greg van Aver­maet, Sa­gan mist­imed his fin­ish, eas­ing up just a frac­tion too early against the Bel­gian rider who pushed to the very end.

“My stupid mis­take,” said the Tinkoff-Saxo rider.

Chris Froome was fault­less. Again. Another stage down, another step closer to sip­ping cham­pagne on the Champs-El­y­sees for the race leader.

“Just happy to tick that day off. One day closer to Paris now,” he said.

For most of the flat-to-hilly Stage 13 from Muret deep in south­ern France, six low-placed riders rode in a break­away at the front of the race. None were a threat for the podium in Paris. The clos­est to Froome, Cyril Gau­tier, was more than an hour be­hind him in the over­all stand­ings.

So Froome and the main pack hap­pily let the es­cape get away, hop­ing in­stead for a breather on the 198-kilo­me­tre (123-mile) trek af­ter three gru­el­ing days of climb­ing in the Pyre­nees and un­der un­re­lent­ing sun that melted tar­mac.

Rid­ing past plan­ta­tions of yel­low sun­flow­ers and golden fields of har­vested wheat, the riders worked on stay­ing hy­drated as tem­per­a­tures soared into the mid-30s Cel­sius (mid-90s Fahren­heit). A loss of con­cen­tra­tion proved very painful for Jean-Christophe Per­aud.

Last year’s run­ner-up suf­fered a nasty spill at speed on the flat, tear­ing strips of skin off his left leg and arms as he hit the deck hard and rolled sev­eral times.

The French leader of the AG2R La Mon­di­ale team gingerly picked him­self up and re­mounted, grit­ting his teeth. A Tour doc­tor then patched him up on the move, wrap­ping his wounds in ban­dages as Per­aud gripped the speed­ing med­i­cal car.

“When it’s hot like that, you need a new bot­tle of wa­ter ev­ery 10-15 min­utes,” said Froome. “It was tough.” And it got tougher. As the fin­ish in Rodez drew close, the pelo­ton woke from its slum­ber.

Like mice try­ing to es­cape a hunt­ing cat, the es­capees rode fu­ri­ously, eye­ing the stage win in the town of 26,000 peo­ple. Their spe­cial­ity dishes in­clude aligot, a mix of melted cheese and mashed potato, and tripe. The cat had other plans. Riders took turns at the front of the pelo­ton to pile on speed. The gap melted like ice cream. With 7 kilo­me­tres (4 miles) to ride, it had shrunk from min­utes to 40 sec­onds.

It was clear this would be ag­o­niz­ingly close.

The pack caught its prey in­side the last kilo­me­tre ( halfmile), swal­low­ing up the last three es­capees. That was when van Aver­maet and Sa­gan pounced, surg­ing ahead, two pow­er­ful riders com­pet­ing for one prize.

The 30-year-old Bel­gian made the top 10 on five pre­vi­ous stages.

Not bad, but no cigar. As well as sec­ond places on Stages 2, 5 and 6, 25-year-old Sa­gan also placed third twice. Both were ravenous to win.

Bri­tain’s Chris Froome, left, and Italy’s Vin­cenzo Nibali ride in the pack dur­ing the 13th stage of the Tour de France in Rodez, France, Fri­day.

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