Peter Sagan may have taken on the persona of the Hulk, but it was another iconic US action TV series, the A-Team, that came to mind as his Cannondale team's plan came together, the Slovak coming through a select bunch to claim his first stage of the 2013 Tour de France in Albi this afternoon and consolidate his lead in the points competition.
He also took the day's intermediate sprint on a day when rivals Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Andre Greipel were dropped before the halfway point of the 205.5km stage from Montpellier.
Some sprinters did remain in the main group, which reeled in three escapees with 3km to go, with Argos-Shimano's John Degonkolb second and Daniele Bennati of Saxo-Tinkoff third. Safely in the front group was Orica-GreenEdge's Daryl Impey, who keeps the race leader's yellow jersey.
Cannondale had clearly targeted the stage, Sagan’s team mates executing to perfection the plan that resulted in his chief rivals for the green jersey he won in Paris last year being distanced.
The damage was done on the second of the day’s four categorised climbs, the Category 2 Col de la Croix de Mounis, which came with 117km still to ride.
Putting down the hammer, Cannondale’s move not only put the likes of Cavendish and Greipel in trouble, but also sealed the fate of the two riders who had got clear of the peloton at the second attempt after 10km.
The pair comprised RadioShack-Leopard’s Jens Voigt and Biel Kadri of AG2R la Mondiale, and while they went over the top of the climb still in front, the fact the intermediate sprint came around 30km later made the catch inevitable as Cannondale continued to ride hard, only Vacansoleil-DCM’s Juan Antonio Flecha seeking to challenge Sagan for the points.
Behind, Omega Pharma-Quick Step – who had sent Sylvain Chavanel and Michal Kwiatowski up the road with the main group – and Lotto-Belisol were leading a desperate chase.
With a little under 70km to go, another break got off the front of the leading group, comprising Jan Bakelants of RadioShack-Leopard, who got into the maillot jaune after winning Stage 2, plus Europcar’s Cyril Gautier and Juan Jose Oroz of Euskaltel.
Cannondale kept them on a tight leash, however, and timed the catch to perfection, as did Sagan in his run to the line to clinch a victory that even as early as the end of the first week of the Tour may well prove decisive in the points competition, so long as he makes it to Paris.
Behind, Lotto-Belisol, Omega Pharma-Quick Step and those Argos-Shimano riders who had held back to help Stage 1 winner Marcel Kittel gave up the ghost with 40km and knocked off the pace to conserve energy ahead of a big weekend in the Pyrenees.
That starts tomorrow with a 195km stage from Castres to a summit finish at Ax 3 Domaines, with the day’s itinerary including the highest point of this year’s race, the Col de Pailhères, which has an altitude of 2,001 metres.
One rider who won’t be there is Garmin-Sharp’s Christian Vande Velde, twice a top ten GC finisher, who crashed for the third time in this year’s race early on during today’s stage and abandoned, bringing an early end to what is his final appearance in the race.
"It was the second crash he had in three days and unfortunately his injuries have forced him to quit the Tour,” Garmin-Sharp team doctor Prentice Steffen told L’Equipe, quoted on Eurosport.co.uk.
“He has multiple cuts after the crash today, added to those he sustained in stage five. His neck has a blood clot, one of the screws is coming lose in his collarbone, and he has upper back injuries. In short, it was impossible for him to finish today's stage."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.