Cancellara's aggressive move ultimately gave the young Slovakian Sagan a clean line to the podium. (Photo: Bettini)
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland held on to the Tour de France yellow jersey Sunday after being pipped at the finish line of the first stage by streetwise Slovakian Peter Sagan. Cancellara now leads British race favorite Bradley Wiggins of Sky by 7sec in the general classification, with Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel third on the same time.
Australia's defending champion Cadel Evans, of BMC, remains 17sec off the pace and 10sec behind Wiggins. RadioShack rider Cancellara took the race leader's jersey thanks to a commanding opening day win when he repeated his Liege feat of 2004 to claim the fourth prologue win of his career. But despite leaving a gaping hole when he pulled away from the peloton with 1.5km remaining on the 2.4km-long uphill finish, the Swiss was upstaged by the Liquigas team's Slovakian champion.
Sagan, a sprinter known for his climbing abilities, attached himself to Cancellara's back wheel and for the remaining 1200 meters refused to collaborate by taking a relay at the front to allow the Swiss a breather. Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky, meanwhile, caught up with the pair to create a three-man sprint at the finish.
But after Cancellara launched his sprint inside the final 300 metres, Sagan simply emerged from his slipstream to claim his maiden win on the race and continue his impressive season so far. At 22 years old Sagan is the youngest rider in the race after Frenchman Thibaut Pinot of FDJ. Probably more significantly, he is the second youngest rider, after Lance Armstrong in 1993, to win a stage on the race. Having claimed an impressive five stage wins at the Tour of California as well as four victories at the Tour of Switzerland, Sagan was only too happy to open his account on the Tour.
It was even more sweet as he missed out on contending victory on the prologue when he lost precious seconds after his foot came out of his cleat pedal. "I'm very happy, especially after yesterday's incident at the prologue," said Sagan. "My legs were feeling better today. I want to thank my teammates, they did a lot of good work in the last kilometers.
"Before the race today I spoke with my team coach and manager, and they said I had to look out for only one rider: Cancellara. "He had a great prologue, and that showed he's got good condition. Also, this stage suited him."
After Frenchman Maxime Bouet, the last remnant of a six-man breakaway that
had escaped after just 3km, had been reeled in with 8 km remaining, the rather slow start to the stage was replaced by a hectic battle for position. The Belgian Lotto team of yellow jersey outsider Jurgen Van den Broucke hit the front and were soon joined by Orica-GreenEdge riders keen on positioning Simon Gerrans for the win. Once on the climb the first attack came from Chavanel, who began the day only 7sec off the yellow jersey pace, but he was chased down by Orica-GreenEdge's Michael Albasini.
Soon after, Cancellara - a former king of the cobbled classics - made his
move, accelerating on a short cobblestone section just before attacking. "When I saw Albasini attack on the hardest part of the climb, I was happy that I'd gone to see the finale 24 hours earlier, because I'd seen the bend, with a little bit of cobblestones," said Cancellara. The Swiss, completing his 22nd day in the race's yellow jersey - eight years after wearing it in Liege for the first time in his career - could only lament that his strength ultimately became his downfall. "I thought attacking would be the best defense and 500 meters from the line I wasn't going to slow down. If I go for something, I go all the way. I'm not going to give up, that's not me. "Maybe Sagan, eight years from now, will do the same thing."
Stage 1 Results
1. Peter Sagan (SVK/LIQ) 4h58min 19sec
2. Fabian Cancellara (SWI/RSH) at 0:00.
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/SKY) 0:00.
4. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC) 0:00.
5. Bauke Mollema (NED/RAB) 0:00.
6. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 0:00.
7. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 0:00.
8. Daniel Martin (EIR/GRM) 0:00.
9. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) 0:00.
10. Dries Devenyns (BEL/OPQ) 0:00.
11. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LTB) 0:00.
12. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/OPQ) 0:00.
13. Simon Gerrans (AUS/GEC) 0:00.
14. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA/COF) 0:00.
15. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) 0:00.
16. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) 0:00.
17. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/AST) 0:00.
18. Nicolas Roche (EIR/ALM) 0:00.
19. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 0:00.
20. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC)
1. Fabian Cancellara (SUI/RSH) 5h05min 32sec
2. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) at 0:07.
3. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/OPQ) 0:07.
4. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 0:10.
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/SKY) 0:11.
6. Denis Menchov (RUS/KAT) 0:13.
7. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC) 0:13.
8. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 0:17.
9. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) 0:18.
10. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) 0:18.
11. Andreas Kloden (GER/RSH) 0:19.
12. Bauke Mollema (NED/RAB) 0:21.
13. Maxime Monfort (BEL/RSH) 0:22.
14. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/AST) 0:22.
15. Christian Vande Velde (USA/GRM) 0:22.
16. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) 0:22.
17. Jean Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 0:23.
18. Tony Martin (GER/OPQ) 0:23.
19. Marco Marcato (ITA/VAC) 0:23.
20. Vladimir Gusev (RUS/KAT) 0:24.