Peter Sagan took his third win of the 2016 Tour de France with a photo finish victory over Alexander Kristoff for Stage 16 Moirans En-Montagne to Berne.
The Slovakian World Champ capped off a brutal day of racing, managing to throw his bike across the line at the last second, overtaking Kristoff with just centimeters to go.
The relentlessly fast pace for the stage was set early by the unexpected breakaway duo of Jullian Alaphilippe and three time World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin, both from Etixx Quickstep.
The two were never allowed to get a lead of more than 6 minutes but it took some of the peloton’s strongest domestiques to reel in the two teammates who lasted nearly 170km at the front setting an average pace of 47km/h.
Their catch with 20km to go set off a number of counterattacks as the race entered the outskirts of the Berne with Lampre-Merida’s Rui Costa staying away until the final 2km.
The final cobbled climb whittled down the bunch, leaving behind the likes of pure sprinters: Andrea Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Bryan Coquard.
The sentimental favourite, home town legend Fabian Cancellara made it to the final sprint but didn’t get the fairy tale win coming in sixth as Sagan and Kristoff duked it out for the win.
The last gasp win all but seals Sagan’s stranglehold on the Green Points Classification Jersey which he will now wear all the way to Paris.
Despite the high tempo and narrow roads in the final 5km there were no crashes and all the major General Classification riders made it to the finish in the final bunch.
1. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
2. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
3. Sondre Holst Enger (IAM Cycling)
4. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin)
5. Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange)
Chris Froome (Sky)
Bauke Mollema (Trek) +1.47’
Adam Yates (Orica-Bike Exchange) +2.45’
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2.59’
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +3.17’
It’s the last chance for the sprinters to make their mark before Paris as the Tour de France travels from Moirans En-Montagne to the Swiss Capital of Berne for Stage 16. Join The Roar for live coverage from 9:30pm (AEST).
Today is a welcome break for the general classification riders, before a rest day and the week’s alpine finale.
However, today’s 209-kilometre trek through the valleys of the Jura and into Switzerland is no easy day in the saddle, with a number of non-categorised hills that’ll wear down the men hoping to take the win.
The finale, in the urban center of Berne, is almost ‘classic-esque’: two climbs in the final three kilometres, the first, 250 metres at seven per cent, followed quickly by 600 metres at 6.5 per cent, then a one-kilometre flat drag to the finish line.
With only one Category 4 climb, there isn’t enough tough terrain before the final five kilometres for the breakaway to stay away from the peloton, but the final short burst will likely rule out pure sprinters Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel.
Hometown boy and soon-to-retire Fabian Cancellara will be desperate to have one last day on the podium at the Tour, but is up against stiff competition from the likes of Alexander Kristoff, Greg Van Avermaet, Julian Alaphilippe and Michael Matthews.
However, the favourite for today has to be Peter Sagan. His four years of green jersey dominance have been built on stages like this one, too steep for the pure sprinters but not long enough for the climbers.
He won the world championships on a climb just like this, and has the gas to hold off the chasers over the final, flat kilometre.
I’d love the fairytale finish for ‘Spartacus’, but cannot go past the world champ and green jersey holder, Sagan, taking the honours today.