This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale took his first Tour de France win in the first stage of his first Tour de France, outsprinting yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) for the victory. The trio had escaped from the field in the final 1.5km of the stage, under the impetus of a powerful surge from Cancellara, and charged their way up the closing climb in Seraing, Belgium.
There were no changes in the top five of the GC, but the pure time trialists fell out of the top ten. Cancellara easily retained his seven second lead over Sky's Bradley Wiggins with Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) holding third place overall, tied on time with Wiggins.
The stage was marked by a breakaway group which enjoyed approximately 190 kilometers of freedom, but the finale went to the top guns. Although a large group came to the end and was given the time of the winner, the usual sprinters were not involved.
Sagan had been a favourite to take the win on this tricky finish, and Boasson Hagen was no surprise either. But it was not so expected to see Cancellara fighting those two for the stage win, and he has now really shown that he is recovered from his shattered collarbone at the Tour of Flanders and has his self-confidence back.
"Of course people told me I was the favourite," said Sagan. "I knew that Chavanel would try something at the end. I wanted to attack at the hardest section. It was very, very good that Cancellara was there. I saw that he had strong legs. It was good to take it easy behind him."
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From the gun
The full complement of 198 riders started on Sunday for the 198 kilometers from Liege to Seraing. And almost immediately after the sharp start, six riders attacked and proved to be the break of the day.
The RadioShack-Nissan-led field was happy to let Yohann Gène (Europcar), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) and Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) go. Their lead jumped around from 1:10 (after being stopped at a level crossing) to 4:50 but RadioShack-Nissan never let them get too far away, and their advantage settled around the three-minute mark.
Tony Martin's problems in the 2012 Tour de France continued. After the time trial world champion suffered a puncture in the prologue, he proceeded to crash early on in this stage, and seemed to have difficulty staying up with the field much of the day. Open wounds could be seen on the Omega Pharma-QuickStep German's elbow, and it was said he had injured his wrist as well.
The July weather in Belgian is no better than that during the Spring Classics, and the peloton went from overcast to rain to sun, and back again. Fortunately the dry weather prevailed during the nervous finale.
The day's only intermediate sprint came at 139km , and it was hotly contested by both the break group and the peloton. Gene took maximum points at the head of affairs, while in the field Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) claimed seventh place ahead of Mark Cavendish (Sky) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol).
The oldest of RadioShack's oldies, 40-year-old Jens Voigt, proved why he was named to ride his 15th Tour. He put in many kilometers at the head of the field and was especially vigilant on the front when the gap to the break had crept up again. The German veteran was instrumental in keeping their lead pegged at a comfortable level, ably assisted by Yaroslav Popovych
Along the way, Morkov and Urtasun fought it out for every mountain point. The Dane was the lucky winner, raising a "number one" finger as he took the penultimate climb, but the Basque rider was quick to congratulate him.
With 50km to go, RadioShack-Nissan turned on the speed again and, helped by a tailwind, brought the gap to under two minutes. The Luxembourg-based team was still, as they had all day, doing all the lead work alone.
The escapees hung on gamely to their lead, even as it dropped. With just about 30km to go, though, it finally fell beneath the one minute mark as behind them the other teams started bringing their captains into position. Finally, too, other teams were seen at the head of the field but the impetus in the field momentarily stalled as the gap to the break slowly crept back up again.
At just about the 23km mark four riders crashed, including Mick Rogers of Sky, two Movistar riders and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), who remained on the pavement a long time but eventually got up and continued. Shortly thereafter there was another large crash when a fan saw the need to stand in the road to make photos. The speed had been turned on for good by that time, and the lead group took only 28 seconds into the last 20km. The field, scenting the catch and possibly affected by the crashes, was much more hectic than the six escapees.
It was a rolling, curving lead in to the finale, with everyone going all out. BMC, with Marcus Burghardt, had now moved to the front of the field. The inevitable ultimately happened, and with 9km to go the six leaders were caught. Bouet held out longest, but he had no chance against the field now led by Lotto Belisol. The appearance of Andre Greipel at the head of things showed, though, that the Belgian team was not looking for a mass sprint.
The peloton was strung out as it started up the final climb, but it was still a large group. All the big names were at the front, as Orica-GreenEdge pulled them along. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) jumped at the 2km marker, but Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) caught him on the steepest part of the climb. Cancellara pulled the rest of the field up to the two.
And then Cancellara took off with 1.5km to go! Sagan attached himself to the yellow jersey's rear wheel and the two pulled away. Cancellara was unable to drop Sagan and the lead duo were joined by Boasson Hagen with just over 500m to go, and the three went into the closing – and very high-powered – sprint.
As the field came closer and closer Cancellara opened the sprint at the 150 meter marker. Sagan moved easily around the yellow jersey holder and proudly took the win, sitting straight up and appearing to do a victory dance on his bike.