Tour de France 2018
The indefatigable Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) launched from the wheel of yellow jersey Greg van Avermaet (Quick-Step Floors) before powering past the plucky Italian Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida) to take his second win of the race and show just why he is the triple world champion.
It was a thrilling conclusion to the lumpy, pulsating and at times nervous 204.5km stage from Lorient to Quimper – and one which saw the Belgian van Avermaet (BMC) consolidate his overall lead thanks to picking up two bonus seconds in the bonus intermediate sprint.
Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) completed the top five as van Avermaet settled for seventh place behind Ireland’s Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) in a top ten worthy of an Ardennes classic.
The succession of punishing climbs through the lush Breton countryside had whittled down the peloton in the lead up to the finale, distancing most of the pure sprinters such as Mark Cavendish(Dimension Data), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and, latterly, the double stage winner from Colombia, Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors).
But Sagan’s ability to get over the hills and then boss an uphill sprint underlined why the Slovakian showman is the bookies’ favourite to secure a record-equalling green jersey in Paris – and resulted in the 28-year-old’s tenth career scalp on the Tour.
Defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) and the likes of Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Richie Porte (BMC) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) all finished safely in the streamlined pack after a testing day in the saddle.
Van Avermaet now leads the race by two seconds over American team-mate Tejay Van Garderen, with compatriot Gilbert jumping above Welshman Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) into third place at three seconds.
Meanwhile, Tom Skujins of Trek-Segafredo became the first Latvian rider to don the Tour’s polka dot jersey after picking up enough KOM points over the five categorised climbs from the day’s seven-man break.
After an impressive eighth place finish in the stage, Denmark’s Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) retained the white jersey as the race’s best young rider.
As Croatia’s Robert Kiserlovski (Katusha-Alpecin) was forced out of the race with a broken collarbone after a nasty crash in the opening kilometres, a group of seven riders were forcing a gap on the front of the race.
Sylvain Chavanel and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Julien Vermote (Direction Data), Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo Samsic), Jasper de Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Skujins combined well to build up a maximum lead of over four minutes while neutralising an attempt by Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) to bridge over.
Shortly after the intermediate sprint, French veteran Chavanel rode clear of his fellow escapees ahead of the hilly second half of the stage, the 39-year-old cresting the summit of the first three categorised climbs in pole position to move into the provisional polka dot jersey.
A nasty high-speed crash on a descent saw local rider Gesbert forced back into the peloton before both De Buyst and Vermote were dropped when Skujins upped the tempo on the third climb.
After the summit of the Cote de la Roche du Feu, Chavanel was joined by his team-mate Calmejane, the Latvian Skujins and a third Frenchman in Edet.
Riding a record-breaking eighteenth Tour, Chavanel soon crumbled. He handed the Direct Energie baton over to Calmejane, but the youngster – a stage winner in his debut Tour last summer – was unable to match polka dot jersey elect Skujins on the remaining two climbs, as the Latvian did enough to pip Chavanel in the KOM battle.
Over the narrow and – at times – cobbled roads of Brittany, the gap yo-yoed around the minute mark before Edet was caught leaving just Calmejane and Skujins out ahead of the bonus sprint 12km from the finish.
Calmejane looked destined to win the sprint after his fellow escapee threw in the towel but an attack from Alaphilippe saw the Frenchman pick up three bonus seconds and force a reply from van Avermaet, who zipped clear to pick up two seconds for himself.
In the lull that followed Direct Energie played a third card in the form of Rein Taaramae. But the Finns brief cameo off the front was neutralised by some strong tempo-setting by Froome’s Team Sky, mindful of the narrow roads and eager to position their man favourably ahead of the decisive climb to the line.
Indeed, it was Froome’s Colombian team-mate Egan Bernal who led the four-time Tour winner through the kilometre-to-go banner on the front, with the green jersey of Sagan lurking with intent right behind.
Gilbert made the first big move with Frenchman Julian Simon (Cofidis) and the yellow jersey hot on his heels. After the climb flattened through a series of bends it was van Avermaet who found himself leading it out before Colbrelli put in his kick.
Sagan closed the Italian down in a flash – and the two riders enjoyed a right tussle before the world champion showed his stamina and class by pulling a second win out of the bag. On this form, Sagan is unbeatable.
“It was also a bit lucky because Colbrelli came very close again,” said the Bora-Hansgrohe star after securing a record-breaking ninetieth day in green.
“My team-mates did a very good job and from the middle of the stage they were pulling in the front. They brought me into a good position for the final climb, and Sky started to go full gas, [Philippe] Gilbert came over and tried to attack but we caught him. I think that [Greg] Van Avermaet started too early and in the end he pulled a very good sprint for me and Colbrelli.”
Sagan, who has now finished in the top two in every road stage so far in the race, extended his lead in the green jersey standings to 180 points to Gaviria’s 147 points with Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) now a distant third on 78 points.
Even Sagan may struggle to impose himself on the tough climb to Mur-de-Bretagne, which the riders face two times in the finale of the 181km Stage 6 on Thursday.
Australia’s Cadel Evans triumphed at Mur-de-Bretagne on the climb’s Tour debut in 2011 en route to securing the yellow jersey in Paris, while Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz took the spoils when the climb last featured three years ago.
Expect the GC riders to compete alongside the likes of Sagan, Gilbert and van Avermaet on a draining day that includes four lower-category climbs in total.