The most impressive thing about this Peter Sagan victory was that it was so clearly signposted, and yet no one could stop it. In the last 500m he emerged, lurking a handful of riders from the front like an assassin. He briefly toyed with his victims, letting Philippe Gilbert charge over the final hill, allowing Greg van Avermaet to dash for the line, before pouncing in the final 100m to win by two lengths.
It is now 2-2 in stage wins between the prodigiously talented Colombian Fernando Gaviria and the enormously skilled Sagan, one trying to win his first ever green jersey, the other trying to clinch a record-equalling sixth, but here the 23-year-old Gaviria couldn’t stick with the roaring pace Team Sky set into the finish and was left behind.
He lasted longer than most of the sprinters who dropped from the back of the peloton along the way. Mark Cavendish faced the ignominy of being dropped by the dropees, clearly feeling the effects of a series of short sharp climbs which drained his legs. It has been a frustrating injury-ravaged season for Cavendish and a frustrating start to this Tour, and here he did not look like a man prepared to sweep through the Alps and the Pyrenees to Paris.
At the front of the race a seven-man breakaway quickly tore north from Lorient, fronted by Direct Energies’s Sylvain Chavanel and Lilian Calmejane. Gradually they filtered down until only two remained, with Tom Skujins winning enough king-of-the-mountains points at each summit to earn the polka dot jersey on tomorrow’s stage six, the first Latvian to do so in the Tour’s history.
Peter Sagan celebrates his victory in Quimper (AFP/Getty Images)
Once the peloton swallowed the breakaway, they swarmed towards the narrow bending streets of Quimper as one. Team Sky positioned themselves close to the front and took over control on the race, after BMC had done much of the work all day for Richie Porte and Greg van Avermaet.
Gilbert seemed to jump the gun, attacking early and stretching out the pack as they climbed towards the finish, scuppering his team-mate Julian Alaphilippe. The yellow jersey of Van Avermaet took over but as he turned the final corner to the finish, in romped the unmissable ball of muscle in green, Sagan. Sonny Colbrelli tried to follow but could not reel in the Slovakian rider, finishing second with Gilbert third.
“It was a little bit lucky,” said Sagan. “My team-mates did very good job, they were pulling at the front, they bring me in a good positon for the final climb. Sky started to pull full gas, Gilbert came over and tried to attck but we caught him. Van Avermaet pulled too early and in the end it was a great sprint for me and Colbrelli.
“It was a little technical today: up ,down, left, right. It was nice. It was 30 points I think [for the win], better than nothing. Tomorrow is another day.”
The general classification contenders finished safely in the main bunch on an uneventful day which will please Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and alike. Van Avermaet remains in yellow for another day, but that could be challenged as Thursday’s stage six takes on the gruelling Mur-de-Bretagne – twice.