Some days, when there are no big mountains to liven things up, the Tour de France throws everything but the kitchen sink at the stage to inject some interest.
For Stage 3, we had three separate countries (the race started in Belgium, clipped Luxembourg, and finally entered France), a lap around the Formula 1 racing circuit at Spa, and the promise of a steep uphill finish at the Citadel of Besancon – a 17th century fortress which may or may not have been designed with the fearsome finishing power of Peter Sagan in mind.
Call me old fashioned, but a stage of the Tour de France is not complete without a citadel, a medieval wall, or a rambling chateaux with a back-story of stomach churning opulence.
Throw in a couple of wild horses galloping alongside a tightly bunched peloton and you’ve got yourself a full house.
For some time, the peloton could barely rouse themselves to put on a show. With a breakaway group of riders clear and seemingly under control, the main bunch cruised along soporifically; at one point dipping below 20kph – a pace which might charitably be described as ‘sluggish’, and less than charitably as ‘bone idle.’
But then Thomas De Gendt – the most medieval of all the cyclists – teamed up with a couple of allies and jumped across the gap. And then away down the road, causing the peloton to figuratively choke and splutter on their afternoon tea and set off in pursuit.
With ten kilometres to go, however, the race was back together, and the big classics riders – Van Avermaet, Matthews, Gilbert, Trentin – amassed at the front.
Eyes narrowed. Teeth gritted. Ready for an arm wrestle. Sagan was there somewhere, but at least ten wheels back.
Was the man who never has an off day having an off day?
I wrote pre-tour about my belief in the law of averages. Sagan, I seem to remember reading somewhere (which, admittedly, does undermine this stat even before I’ve quoted it) wins one in every three races he starts.
This was Stage 3.
He didn’t win Stage 1. He also didn’t win Stage 2.
If I were a betting man I would have put my mortgage, your mortgage, and the contents of my children’s money boxes on a Sagan win.
And as he rode off the front of the race in the final few hundred metres he accidentally unclipped shoe from pedal, lost all his momentum, looked down briefly to clip back in, and won anyway.
When it’s show time at the Tour de France, Sagan’s the man.
(Top image: with kind permission from @greypea via Twitter)