VALENCE – Slovakian Peter Sagan underlined his sprint credentials for the third time on the Tour de France Friday after powering to victory in the 13th stage from Bourg d'Oisans to Valence.
Sagan, of the Bora team, is one of the few real sprint specialists still in the race after surviving an Alpine stage trilogy that proved fatal to the hopes of rivals Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Dylan Groenewegen and Fernando Gaviria.
All the aforementioned exited the race over two tough days in the Alps, and Sagan -- who had won two stages on this edition so far -- was quick to capitalise.
“It was very beautiful to win today after three days in the Alps,” said Sagan, whose 11th stage win on the race helped take his tally in the points competition to 398 points.
Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (UAE), who finished a close second, has 170 while Frenchman Arnaud Demare, of Groupama, has 133.
“I was on the wheel of (Alexander) Kristoff, then I made my move. But it wasn't easy for me. The team did a great job, but in the last kilometre I was maybe in 20th or 25th position, so I had to sprint to get back up to the front.”
Sagan was given extra work after Belgian upstart Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step) brazenly attacked a leading peloton full of ambitious sprinters 930 metres from the line.
But Sagan, and his rivals didn't flinch.
They kept the pace high and one-day classics specialist Gilbert was caught, much to his dismay, with 245m remaining.
The Groupama team of Demare, as well as Kristoff's UAE outfit had been key in chasing down a relatively tame four-man breakaway in the closing kilometres of the race.
But the Frenchman came up short when it came to payback.
He launched his burst first, but, as Kristoff and Sagan came up on his left, Demare ran out of juice.
“I thought I was going to win, I started my sprint well but I came up short. Sagan was too strong,” he said.
Sagan now has one hand on a sixth green jersey, and one eye now on winning the final stage to the Champs Elysees.
But the 28-year-old Slovakian star, who on Thursday announced his impending divorce from his wife Katarina, won't be performing any of his trademark wheelies just yet.
“There's a lot of tough stages to do before we get to” the Champs Elysees, said Sagan. “I have to be a bit closer to Paris before I start doing a wheelie.”
Britain's Geraint Thomas, fresh from winning two stages in the Alps, remained in the leader's yellow jersey.
The Welshman leads Sky teammate Chris Froome by 1min 39secs, with Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) third overall at 1:50.
Although Froome is Sky's team leader, Thomas said: “I hope to keep the jersey as long as possible.
“But it's a three-week race and the Pyrenees are going to be even tougher.”
The 14th stage is a difficult and technical ride over 188 km starting in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
Although Sky will be hoping to keep powder dry for the crucial third week, Froome said their rivals could try to steal time on the steep, 3km-long climb to the finish in Mende.
“We're waiting for tomorrow. It's not an easy stage,” said Froome. “Tomorrow we could see some little time differences between the favourites.”