Sa­gan cap­tures Tour’s Stage 3

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JOHN LE­ICES­TER

LONGWY, FRANCE — Shak­ing off an equip­ment glitch in the fu­ri­ous fin­ish­ing sprint, Slo­vakian Peter Sa­gan bagged his eighth ca­reer Tour de France stage vic­tory on Mon­day with an im­pres­sive dis­play of power and quick-think­ing on a short, sharp fi­nal up­hill dash.

Geraint Thomas of Team Sky re­tained the yel­low jersey he’s held since the open­ing stage in Ger­many, as the race swung into France, to the for­mer steel town of Longwy. But he is not plan­ning to hold onto it for ever: The team’s goal is for three-time cham­pion Chris Froome to be wear­ing the jersey when the Tour rolls into Paris on July 23.

Thomas and Froome got through Stage 3 un­scathed, the main goal for them and oth­ers eye­ing over­all vic­tory rather than stage wins.

The pack of rid­ers stretched like a piece of string into sin­gle file on the fast, wind­ing down­hill into Longwy be­fore the fi­nal climb on Nuns’ Hill that seemed tai­lor-made for the strengths of Sa­gan, the world cham­pion.

Aus­tralian rider Richie Porte, a con­tender for over­all vic­tory, showed he’s in fear­some form by pow­er­ing away from the pack in the first stages of the climb. But Sa­gan was watch­ing closely be­hind him and never let Porte get too far ahead.

Sa­gan seemed to be cruis­ing to vic­tory un­til his right foot slipped out of his pedal in the last few hun­dred me­tres.

“I said to my­self, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing?’” the Slo­vak star of the Ger­man Bora-Hans­grohe team said.

But he quickly re­cov­ered with­out los­ing speed, clip­ping his foot back into place and hold­ing off to the line Michael Matthews, an Aus­tralian with Sun­web, and Dan Martin, an Ir­ish­man with Quick­step.

Froome was ninth on the stage, show­ing no ap­par­ent side ef­fects from a crash on wet roads on Sun­day that shaved skin off his but­tocks. He moved up from sixth to sec­ond over­all, 12 sec­onds be­hind Thomas.

Al­though a mere speed bump com­pared to the moun­tain as­cents to come in the Alps and Pyre­nees, the 1.6-kilo­me­tre (one-mile) up­hill in Longwy, with a short very steep sec­tion, was test­ing enough to give an early inkling of the fit­ness of some of the top rid­ers. Porte, who used to be a team­mate of Froome’s at Sky be­fore switch­ing to BMC, im­pressed with his at­tack.

“It showed that he’s in great form and will al­ways look to use his legs to gain some time,” Thomas said.

Porte fin­ished the stage in the same group as Froome and Thomas — two sec­onds be­hind Sa­gan and other rid­ers who went all out for the stage win. Porte, who is 35 sec­onds be­hind Froome over­all, was pleased to test his legs.

“It’s good for the con­fi­dence just to have a bit of a crack,” Porte said.

Other over­all con­tenders in­cluded Nairo Quin­tana, a three-time podium fin­isher, for­mer two-time winner Al­berto Con­ta­dor, and Ro­main Bardet, run­ner-up last year to Froome. A sterner test of their rel­a­tive strengths will come on Wed­nes­day on a tougher climb to the Planche des Belles Filles ski sta­tion.

CHRIS GRAYTHEN, GETTY IM­AGES

Rid­ers pass a church dur­ing Stage 3 of the 2017 Le Tour de France, a 212.5-kilo­me­tre stage from Verviers to Longwy on Mon­day in Verviers, France.

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