A year after leaving the Tour de France in disgrace, Peter Sagan of Slovakia earned the race’s yellow jersey on Sunday after doing what he does best: powering past the competition to reach the finish line.
Sagan, the three-time defending world champion, took the overall lead of the Tour after he bettered about a dozen other sprinters to win Stage 2.
His ninth career win at the Tour came just over a year after he was disqualified from cycling’s most prestigious event by race officials who ruled he had caused a crash that broke Mark Cavendish’s shoulder.
Sagan, however, said that there was no revenge factor in mind, and that just wearing yellow was reason enough to celebrate.
“Revenge? I already forgot about last year,” Sagan said. “I’m just happy I can be in the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world.”
The defending champion, Chris Froome of Britain, who fell into a ditch near the end of Saturday’s Stage 1, arrived safely with most of the peloton.
Sagan came up short in the opening stage’s sprint when he crossed second behind Fernando Gaviria, who won in his Tour debut. The second stage looked as if it would feature another duel between Sagan and Gaviria.
But Gaviria was involved in a group pileup inside the three-kilometer zone that neutralizes the impact of accidents, and he could do nothing to stop Sagan from claiming a six-second overall lead.
“We expected some crashes in this tricky final and moved up early,” said Enrico Poitschke, sports director of Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team. “This proved to be important as we were able to avoid the last crash. Everything turned out perfect.”
Sagan moved to the front of the small bunch hunting for position, reaching a speed of 57.6 kilometers per hour (nearly 36 miles per hour) on the final 500 meters on his way to the finish line. With Sonny Colbrelli about to catch him, Sagan thrust forward to ensure victory.
Sagan won the mostly flat 182.5-kilometer (113.4-mile) leg from Mouilleron-St.-Germain to the department capital of La Roche-sur-Yon in 4 hours 6 minutes 37 seconds.
Froome is 1:07 behind Sagan as he pursues a fifth Tour title. Despite being cleared of doping allegations on Monday, he has been jeered by some fans since his Sky team arrived in France.
The title contenders Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet are 16 seconds behind Sagan, giving them an early advantage over Froome.
Tsgabu Grmay of Ethiopia became the first rider to abandon the race. His Trek-Segafredo team said he had “intense abdominal pain.” The Astana climber Luis León Sánchez later called it quits after he fell and bloodied his left arm.
The Tour remains in western France for Stage 3 on Monday with a 35.5-kilometer (22-mile) team time trial that starts and finishes in Cholet.