Peter Sagan defied the curse of the rainbow jersey this year, in winning the Tour of Flanders, the green jersey, three Tour stages and a whole load of other big races, and so, he probably didn't reason, why not take that jersey for another spin next year. He has custody of it for 2017, thanks to a fast sprint at the end of a tough race.
Rather than the parades to the line that this week's races have been, pressure was put on from very early on, Belgium and Norway forcing a split with 180 kilometres left. Given how early in the race it was, and how suddenly the split was formed, it is hardly surprising that some of the favourites missed out on reaching the first echelon. Notable among them were Dylan Groenewegen, Caleb Ewan, Fernando Gaviria and — most shockingly and importantly — all three leaders of the German team, André Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. (Degenkolb made it in, but punctured).Those that made it in, including Alexander Kristoff, Mark Cavendish, Sagan — the last man to make it, according to the man himself, — almost all the Belgian team, including Tom Boonen and Greg Van Avermaet, Sam Bennett and Michael Matthews, all did their share of the work in establishing a gap for the 24-strong group. They formed a lead of around a minute on the increasingly frustrated German-led second group, and quickly hunted down the early break of Nic Dougall, Ryan Roth, Natnael Berhane, Anass Ait El Abda, Brayan Ramirez, Sergey Lagkuti and Rene Corella.
It was mainly Guarnieri and Bennati of Italy and Keukeleire, Stuyven and Naesen of Belgium who did the work in pulling the group clear, and there was more drama to be found in the second group during the middle of the race. A top favourite for the race, Fernando Gaviria, dislocated his shoulder after being bumped into by a crashing Luke Durbridge, while John Degenkolb kept making half-hearted attempts at attacking while being policed by Jens Debusschere. Up front, the group lost Sam Bennett, who seemingly had problems with the hand he injured in the Tour de France, and Magnus Cort, who had a disastrous puncture.
As the race reached The Pearl circuit, it was still Italy and Belgium pulling the group, both seemingly aiming for a sprint they looked unlikely to win. Kittel, Degenkolb and Greipel were still giving it everything, but the gap inexorably grew until they gave up, with the former two abandoning. That removed all doubt that the front group would contest the finish.
Once they got to contesting it, as the finish line was crossed for the penultimate time, there still had been no attacks since the group was forged four hours previously, and that situation remained until Stuyven, Naesen and Bennati were all dropped in quick succession. The pace slowed, only infinitesimally, but it allowed an attack from Niki Terpstra, but he and companion Van Avermaet could only handle the pace for seconds, and stopped their efforts immediately. The only man who even looked for a second like preventing the sprint was Tom Leezer, who attacked in the final few kilometres. The Norwegian Korsaede brought him back in the last kilometre however, just in time for the favourites to sprint it out.
No one could be said to have launched the sprint, as Boonen, Nizzolo and Matthews all spread out over the road at the same time, but Cavendish and Sagan were not far behind, Sagan squeezing through a gap on the right-hand side of the road, and Cavendish losing his leadout and having to pause as he squeezed past Matthews. That proved the difference, as Sagan crossed the line, arms in the air, to retain his rainbow jersey. Everyone on the podium has worn the rainbow jersey — the results sheets all read:
(Karim Jaafar, AFP/Getty Images)
|6.||NOR||Edvald Boasson Hagen||"|
|10.||BEL||Greg Van Avermaet||"|