The terrible weather gave way to blue skies today, and the impact on the peloton in today’s Tour de France stage was clear – the BORA-hansgrohe team did themselves proud, pushing hard the entire day before ferrying the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, to the line to take his first win of this year’s race and BORA-hansgrohe’s first at the Tour de France. Even an unclipped pedal in the final sprint wasn’t going to stop the Slovak rider taking the win – his eighth in total.
The Tour de France finally made its way into France today, with a stage finishing in the north-eastern town of Longwy after a day spent first in Belgium, before moving into Luxembourg and finally France for the final 28km of the 212.5km route. With the change in countries came a change in weather – the rain that has blighted the first two days holding off for day three. Five categorised climbs dotted today’s stage, giving the Maillot à Pois contenders a few hills to stretch their legs on. The undulating terrain meant the finale was likely to be contested by the all-rounders – although there was every chance a committed break could last to the finish, or a late attack might take the win.
Two attacks early on in the day became a group of six, and this was the day’s breakaway. With a long way still to go to the finish, the peloton allowed the escape to go up ahead, taking a more leisurely approach to proceedings. While the break was eager to build their advantage and push on, their lead never broke much more than four minutes, and with Juraj Sagan leading the push to bring in the gap for BORA-hansgrohe, that fell to 2:30 at the 90km mark, and dropped steadily – the Slovakian National Champion taking charge and bringing the break’s lead down a further minute by the time the race hit the 50km to go point. A three-man attack bridged to the break, giving the escapees renewed vigour, but the strain was beginning to show, and the peloton had really started to chase.
The finish was just 30km away, and the break was being caught one by one, and by the 15km point there was just one rider out in front and he had only thirty seconds in hand over the peloton. With the catch made at 10km to go, it was just a matter of waiting to see if a late attack would take the win, or a group of all-rounders would fight it out amongst themselves. With teams nervously eyeing each other up, the BORA-hansgrohe riders were keeping UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, safe ahead of what was bound to be a hotly-contested finish. The short, punchy climb was far from easy – with a maximum gradient of 11% in the mid-section, but Emanuel Buchmann and Marcus Burghardt were driving the pace hard before the finish, with Rafał Majka taking over in the final kilometre. The line just a few hundred metres away, the sheer power of the Slovak rider ripped his shoe out of his pedal. For any other rider this would have been the end, but Peter calmly clipped back in and regained his rhythm, throwing his bike over the line to take the win – his eighth Tour de France stage victory and the BORA-hansgrohe team’s first in this prestigious race.
After the team had worked so hard for him all through the day, first to draw in the break, and then to take him to the finish, Peter immediately thanked his teammates for their role in his win. “First I’d like to thank all my BORA-hansgrohe teammates – they did an amazing job today. They were pulling all day on the front and it wasn’t easy, with the headwind and the technical section at the end – it was really stressful in the peloton. Then in the end it was a pretty hard climb – BMC did a good job for Richie Porte who then attacked in the last 800m. He created a small gap and went to the front, then I decided to go for it, but we were still at 400m to go and it was too early. It was still far away and I said to myself that again I was in the wrong position. Then I started my sprint and I unclipped – again I thought ‘another mistake – what’s going on today?’ but I went ahead. Matthews nearly beat me, but I made it. I’m so happy with this victory – Thank you BORA-hansgrohe.”
The excitement of Peter’s win was felt by the entire team, who were glad to ride for such a strong rider, as Marcus Burghardt explained from the finish. “It’s tricky here at the Tour because you start positioning yourselves for the finale 20-30km out and you need a good team that works well together. Mine and Pawel Poljanski’s job was to bring Peter into as good a position as possible at the front of the climb, and we did this. In the end though he did it alone – he has to do the big effort in the finale – he needs to have that power, and that’s what he did. I don’t know if he’s even from this planet – he’s so talented, and if he wants something, he’s going to get it. He’s got so much power in his head – and that’s what makes the difference.”
BORA-hansgrohe’s Team Manager, Ralph Denk, was understandably thrilled at Peter’s amazing win. “This is a very special day for BORA-hansgrohe! After four years in the Tour de France, we took our first stage! The stage was made for Peter, but when I saw the climb I wasn’t sure anymore. The team did an amazing job, but when he got out of the pedal, I thought it was over. However, he is the UCI World Champion and he really proved that today.”
Expect some fireworks from the American riders in the peloton tomorrow. While the fourth stage of the Tour de France doesn’t feature the most exciting parcours, it’s the riders who will bring the day to life on this Independence Day stage. The 207.5km route sees one categorised climb over its distance, but this could prove to be a useful springboard for a late attack.