Tour de France 2017
Slovakian sensation Sagan recovered from inadvertently pulling his foot from the pedals to hold off his rivals at a thrilling conclusion to the lumpy 212.5km stage from Verviers to Longwy.
Reacting from an initial attack from Richie Porte (BMC) in the final eight-hundred metres, Sagan swept past the Australian before easing up on the home straight.
On launching his final sprint, Sagan then seemed to drop a gear before his right foot popped out of the pedal. However, the 27-year-old made light work of clipping back in before powering clear to open up his account in the 104th edition of the Tour.
Australian Matthews (Team Sunweb) beat Ireland’s Martin (Quick-Step Floors) for second place before the Belgian Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC) came home for fourth.
Italy’s Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac) led the chasing pack over the line two seconds in arrears – with Team Sky duo Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas finishing safely in the top ten.
Defending champion Froome moved into second place on the general classification – trailing his Welsh team-mate by 12 seconds. Bonus seconds over the line saw Matthews and Sagan rise to third and fourth on GC – 12 and 13 seconds behind Thomas respectively.
Britain’s Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) was the only general classification rider to be caught out on the final climb, coming home eight seconds adrift of his rivals. Yates is now 45 seconds down on the race summit and two seconds ahead of pre-race favourite, Porte.
“What is pressure? I don’t know what it is,” an ice-cool Sagan joked with reporters after picking up the eighth Tour stage win of his career.
“First of all, thank you to all my team who did a very good job all day with the headwind and the technical end. There was a lot of stress at the end,” Sagan said.
“BMC did a good job for Richie [Porte]. He did a little attack with eight-hundred metres to go. I thought I went too early. I started my sprint and I clipped my foot out from the cleat. [Michael] Matthews almost caught me but I’m very happy for this victory and for Bora-Hansgrohe.”
An undulating third stage of the Tour saw the riders leave Belgium, cross picturesque Luxembourg and enter France via five lower-category climbs.
Part of an initial six-man break, American Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Drapac) picked up enough KOM points over the early climbs to take over the polka dot jersey from his team-mate Taylor Phinney.
Frenchman Lilian Calmejane (Direct-Energie) bridged over to the leaders with Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Oscaro) inside the final 60 kilometres.
Calmejane rode clear ahead of the penultimate climb but was swept up by the pack with just over 10km remaining.
Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) crashed for a second consecutive day but was able to rejoin the peloton ahead of the climax to the stage.
Sunday’s Stage 2 winner Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) was dropped on the short but sharp climb to the finish but the German retained the green jersey – despite pressure from French national champion Arnaud Demare of FDJ, who finished the stage an impressive sixth.
Frenchman Pierre Latour moved into the white jersey after Switzerland’s Stefan Kung (BMC) was also distanced in the finale.
The Tour continues tomorrow with the flat 207.5km Stage 4 from Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel: a chance for Kittel and the pure sprinters to contest the win.