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With a bike throw, Sagan beat Kristoff in a very close photo finish on stage 16 of the Tour de France after a fantastic performance by Tony Martin; Enger made it two Norwegians in the top 3 and Froome retained the lead

Photo: A.S.O.

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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CHRIS FROOME

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PETER SAGAN

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SONDRE HOLST ENGER

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TEAM SKY

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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18.07.2016 @ 18:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) continued his most successful Tour de France since his debut in 2012 by taking his third stage victory in a very close sprint in the Swiss capital of Bern. With a perfectly timed bike throw, he narrowly beat Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who initially thought that he had won while Sondre Holst Enger (IAM) made it a big day for the Norwegians by taking third. Chris Froome (Sky) finished safely and goes into the rest day with his lead intact.

 

In 2012, Peter Sagan had one of the best Tour de France debuts in recent history when he won three stages and a maiden points jersey. One year later he added another victory to his tally and another points jersey too but since then it has been a dry run for the world champion.

 

Sagan may have won another two points jerseys in 2014 and 2015 but during those two races he developed a reputation as the eternal runner-up. The Slovakian failed to win a stage and could hardly hide his frustration.

 

In 2016, Sagan has been back at his best level and so it was evident that he was going to break the drought at this year’s edition. He did so very early as he came out on top in the tough finale of the second stage and last week he surprised the entire peloton when he won the windy stage to Montpellier after a big attack in the crosswinds.

 

With a flat sprint in Paris and lots of mountains to come, Sagan had one realistic chance to equal his tally from 2016. Today’s stage 16 to Bern had a very tough finale with two short climbs, a bit of cobbles and a flat sprint, a perfect opportunity for Sagan and Alexander Kristoff who were tipped as the two big favourites for the stage.

 

In the end, it came down to the expected battle between the two classics specialists and it became closer than anyone had imagined. In fact, Kristoff both celebrated the win and gave a winner’s interview to Norwegian TV2 before he found out that Sagan had beaten him in a photo finish.

 

The 209km stage was animated by the Etixx-QuickStep duo Tony Martin and Julian Alaphilippe who spent almost the entire stage in a breakaway. With Alaphilippe sitting on for most of the day, Martin powered along at an average speed of more than 46km/h, forcing six teams to chase as hard as they could. In the end, his impressive performance was all for nothing and after Alaphilippe had sat up, he was only 10 seconds ahead with 22km to go.

 

This prompted Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) to attack. They sprinted past Martin who sat up completely but Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) easily reeled them in, working hard for Edvald Boasson Hagen.

 

Voeckler rode a bit on the front before Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) took off. He managed to open an advantage of 15 seconds and this forced Cummings, Voeckler, Marcus Burghardt and Amael Moinard (BMC) to ride hard on the front.

 

With 15km to go, the gap had dropped to 10 seconds and it even came down to 5 seconds before a small climb took its toll. Burghardt and Voeckler blew up, lots of riders were getting dropped and that allowed Costa to push the gap out to almost 20 seconds.

 

With 10km to go, Costa still had an advantage of 10 seconds and he did well to keep it stable while Cummings and Moinard led the chase. Imanol Erviti came to the fore for Movistar and took a huge turn before he again left it to the Brit and the Frenchman to set the pace.

 

Passing under the 5km to go mark, Cummings sat up and instead IAM hit the front with Reto Hollenstein, Oliver Naesen and Sondre Holst Enger. The former rode strongly on the front to bring Costa back with a little less than 4km to go.

 

Hollenstein led the peloton until LottoNL-Jumbo took over just before the cobbled section. Maartens Wynants led Sep Vanmarcke and Dylan Groenewgen onto the pave while Costa sat up.

 

Michael Schär (BMC) sprinted past LottoNL-Jumbo and was the first rider to hit the climb where Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) was distanced immediately. Vanmarcke then made a strong attack and was joined by Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale) and Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) to form a dangerous trio.

 

Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) hit the front and reeled the attackers in and then strung the peloton out, leading Sagan, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Sondre Holst Enger, Michael Matthews (OricaBikeExchange), Kristoff and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) under the flamme rouge. The Frenchman kept riding on the front until Julien Vermote took over, with Kristoff, Sagan and local hero Fabian Cancellara (Trek) behind.

 

Vermote tried to do the lead-out for Maximilano Richeze but when he swung off, the pace went down as Kristoff was in the wind too early. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sprinted on the left-hand side of the road and this forced Kristoff to react. The Norwegian powered down the middle with Sagan on his wheel and looked like he would take the win. However, the Slovakian came around and with a bike throw, he took his third win in a photo finish. Enger narrowly held Degenkolb and Matthews off in a close battle for third.

 

Froome finished safely in 13th and so retained his overall lead with an advantage of 1.47 over Bauke Mollema (Trek). He will take a well-deserved rest day tomorrow before he faces his next tough challenge in the mountains. Stage 17 has a relatively easy start with just two category 3 climb in the first half but the finale is brutal. The steep category 1 Cold de la Forclaz summits just 18km from the finish and from there it is only a short descent that leads to the final HC climb that averages 8.4% over 10.4km for one of the hardest summit finishes of the race.

 

A tricky finale

After yesterday’s tough stage in the Jura Mountains, it was back into flatter terrain for stage 16 which brought the riders over 209km from Moirans-en-Montgane to the Swiss capital of Bern. The terrain was rolling throughout the entire course but there was only one categorized climb on the menu with 25.5km to go. However, the finale was very tricky as there was a 200m cobbled climb with 2km to go and then a 600m, 6.5% climb led to the flamme rouge. From there, it was a long, straight road to the finish.

 

The 183 riders who survived the battle in the Jura Mountains all turned up for the sunny start and then set off towards Switzerland. This was the last chance for riders who are not climbers or sprinters so it was no surprise that it was a brutally fast and very aggressive start. Hence, it was not easy for Romain Bardet (Ag2r) to return to the field after an early puncture but he managed to do so after a hard chase.

 

Martin and Alaphilippe on the attack

After approximately 8km of racing, Etixx-QuickStep launched a strong double attack with Tony Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, and when they had a lead of 17 seconds, Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo) set off in pursuit. The German never made it and instead it developed into a battle between the peloton and the two Etixx stars. The distance hovered between 10 10 and 25 seconds before the field apparently gave up and let the gap grow to 50 seconds. That prompted Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) to try to make it across but  he failed.

 

The lead reached 55 seconds before the peloton started to chase again. When they had cut 15 seconds off,  Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) attempted  to bridge the gap but he had no success. Then his teammate Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) tried, and while the peloton finally slowed down and let the gap go out to 1.35, he approached the strong pair. He brought the gap down to 40 seconds, but Martin and Alaphilippe had no intention of waiting. The Frenchman finally had to give up and was picked up by the peloton.

 

Katusha and Direct Energie start to chase

A chase group then made a failed attempt to get across before Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo) took off in pursuit. Finally, the peloton slowed down for real after a first hour at an average speed of 49.5km/h and this opened the door for Lawson Craddock (Cannondale) to attack. Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Vegard Breen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) joined him. When they had built a considerable gap, Roosen waited for them and so a chase quartet had formed 1.45 behind the two leaders.

 

The gap went out to five minutes before Direct Energie and Katusha hit the front with Ilnur Zakarin, Alberto Losada, Antoine Duchesne, Fabrice Jeandesboz and Romain Sicard. They kept the gap stable for several kilometres while the chasers were stuck 1.45 behind front duo.

 

BMC hit the front

The impressive Martin had started a 200km time trial and allowed his teammate Alaphilippe to sit on while he slowly increased his advantage to six minutes with 130km to go. Here Alaphilippe finally came through for a single turn before the German went back to work. At the same time, the chase lost a bi momentum as only Losada, Jeandesboz and Sicard rode on the front.

 

With 125km, home team BMC came to the fore with Rohan Dennis and a little later Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) also started to chase. During the next 10km, they shaved 40 seconds off the lead. At the same time, the chasers were losing ground and were now four minutes behind.

 

Tinkoff come to the fore

With 115km to go, Tinkoff also started to chase with Maciej Bodnar. With five teams chasing hard, the peloton was strung completely out in what turned out to be a brutally fast stage.

 

With 102km to go, the chasers were brought back but the gap to the front duo was still five minutes. Moments later, Martin and Alaphilippe who were now sharing the work more equally, entered Switzerland.

 

The gap comes down

Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) also started to chase as they passed through the feed zone. With the Frenchman, Cousin, Jeandesboz, Losada, Dennis and Bodnar riding hard on the front, they slowly started to win the battle and the gap had dropped to 3.15 with 80km to go.

 

Alaphilippe started to take a few turns to give Martin an occasional chance to breathe and that paid off as the gap was still 2.50 when they entered the final 70km. They even managed to push it out to more than three minutes. At the same time, the early workers started to blow up, with Sicard replacing Jeandesboz on the front.

 

Puncture for Kittel

While Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) had to use valuable energy to rejoin the peloton, the gap again started to come down and it was only 2.25 with 50km to go. Meanwhile, Sicard and Cousin disappeared from the front and instead Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) and Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) hit the front to share the work with Bodnar, Losada, Dennis and Delaplace.

 

Alaphilippe and Martin discussed who was going to win the intermediate sprint and agreed that the Frenchman should cross the line first. Less than two minutes later, Sagan was allowed to roll across the line in third, followed by Cavendish and Coquard.

 

Kittel is dropped

Losada and Delaplace blew up but instead BMC added more firepower as Marcus Burghardt hit the front to work with Dennis, Tosatto, Bodnar, Sicard and Cummings. Moments later, Alaphilippe and Martin hit the only categorized climb with an advantage of just 45 seconds.

 

Alaphilippe decided to sit up and wait for the peloton which was now led by Cummings, Sicard, Burghardt and Jarlinson Pantano (IAM). Martin pressed on and won the KOM sprint. Further back, Kittel was dropped which forced Alaphilippe and Iljo Keisse to wait for him. Moments later, Martin was brought back and from there it was evident that it would be a sprint.

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