METZ, France (AFP) — Peter Sagan won his third stage of the 2012 Tour de France Friday in Metz. Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) topped André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) in the Tour sixth stage after a late crash rocked the race’s overall standings ahead of the first day in the Mountains, on Saturday.
Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) was fourth, with Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) fifth.
“I’m very happy to have won today. Yesterday I was a little unlucky, today I was lucky,” said Sagan, who failed to contend Thursday’s sprint after he was caught up in a crash around 3km from the line.
“Everything went well. I decided to take Greipel’s wheel because I knew that if I did that no one would be able to pass me.”
The bunch just caught Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp), the final survivor of the day’s long breakaway, with 1.3km to go. It was a reduced peloton, however, that rode into the 700-meter home straight after the day’s biggest crash, around 26km from the finish, delayed dozens of riders and led to at least three abandons.
“It seems like a flat, normal road, but the cadence was high and down we went,” said Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). “If we were going really, really fast, it would have been understandable, but we weren’t going dangerously fast.”
Garmin’s David Millar called it the scariest crash he had ever been a part of.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) made it through the crash unscathed and retained his overall lead. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), Fränk Schleck (RadioShack), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) each lost between two and 15 minutes after being caught in the crash. Tom Danielson (Garmin), who suffered a separated shoulder earlier this week, abandoned after crashing again.
“We found out we had one rider missing and that was Frank, but already it was too late,” said Cancellara, who retained his seven-second lead over Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who is the main challenger to defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), in seventh overall, an additional 10 seconds back.
A peloton of around 50 riders, which included most of the overall favorites, including Evans and Wiggins, but not world road race champion Mark Cavendish, a favorite for the stage win, forged on regardless.
Cancellara admitted he had a narrow escape from the crash.
“Right next to me I had Davide Vigano and I could feel it when he went down next to me,” he said. “I had to put one leg on the ground and was just happy not to go down at 70 kph.”
Schleck, Valverde and Janez Brajkovic (Astana) were each delayed by the crash and left with a two-minute deficit to the chasing peloton up the road as the bunch closed in on frontrunners Zabriskie, Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank) and Romain Zingle (Cofidis).
“We tried pretty hard,” said Zabriskie. “We tried to be smart about it, but they didn’t give us any leeway.”
Schleck, a third-place finisher last year but an outsider because of his lack of power in the long time trials — of which there are two this year — virtually saw his hopes of challenging come to an end.
The Luxembourger finished 2:09 off the pace in a group that also included French hopes Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Jean-Cristophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) and is now 2:43 off the leading pace.
“It’s was a huge crash,” said Peraud. “It was the front that fell. It was the front group that fell.”
The finale, meanwhile, saw a reduced group of riders battling to set up their sprinters for the hectic finish. Greipel did not expect to contest a bunch sprint after he suffered a shoulder injury when he was caught in the first two crashes. But after radio tour announced that the German’s rival Cavendish had been left behind, his Lotto team fired up its engines.
Greipel looked all set to claim his third win of this year’s race, but lost some momentum when a Vacansoleil rider lost his chain in the finale and the German ran out of steam. Sagan jumped around the right side of the sprint line-up inside the final 300 meters and shot ahead to win by a bike length.