By Julien Pretot
LONGWY, France (Reuters) – World champion Peter Sagan suffered a pedal problem in the final straight but slotted his shoe back into its clip in time and powered to victory in the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday.
The Slovak’s right shoe unclipped as he was about to produce his final burst of speed, and Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) may have seen his chance to attack in the finale on the brutal last climb of the day.
But Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) took a second to clip his shoe back in before accelerating to outsprint Australian Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Ireland’s Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors).
Van Avermaet had to settle for fourth at the end of the 212.5-km ride from Verviers, Belgium.
Britain’s Geraint Thomas of Team Sky finished two seconds off the pace but retained the leader’s yellow jersey as the main overall favorites finished together.
Defending champion Chris Froome moved up to second overall, 12 seconds behind his team mate a day after both crashed on a slippery corner.
“There was no crash but it was a very hectic final. Happy to get through unscathed,” said Thomas.
“It’s certainly a great start (to the Tour for Sky) but there is still 18 days to go.”
While Tuesday’s fourth stage looks set to end in a massive sprint, the GC (general classification) contenders will be in proper action the following day when the fifth stage takes the peloton up the punishing climb to La Planche des Belles Filles.
But Monday was Sagan’s day.
“It was really tough and I have to thank my team for all their hard work. When I had the pedal problem I wondered what happened, some more bad luck but I had no time to think and I went again,” said Sagan.
Australian Richie Porte, one of the top contenders, launched an attack with about 700 meter left in the last ascent — a 1.6 km climb at a gradient of 5.8 percent on the Cote des Religieuses — but it was too soon.
Barring the pedal incident, Sagan was in control.
“It was a bit weird, Richie went strong with 600-700m left. When I caught him, I looked where we were and sat up as I wanted to wait a little,” he said.
“I was also surprised that Matthews was coming back so strong.”
In the end, the Slovak was too powerful for his opponents, however, and his win leaves him fourth overall in the race, one place behind Matthews.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson)