As Mark Cavendish handed yellow off to Peter Sagan, Chris Froome boosted his own chances of ending the Tour de France in the maillot jaune for a third time as key rivals lost time on stage two.
Cavendish never expected to retain the yellow jersey he won on Saturday for more than a day, and so it proved as world champion Sagan won an uphill sprint in Cherbourg ahead of Etixx-QuickStep’s Julian Alaphilippe.
But while Sagan celebrated the first yellow jersey of his career, Tinkoff team-mate Alberto Contador was left to count the cost of a second crash in as many days after rolling over the line some 48 seconds after Froome, battered and bruised.
The news was even worse for Froome’s former team-mate and now rival Richie Porte. The BMC rider suffered a puncture five kilometres from the line and lost one minute 45 seconds to the other overall contenders.
“It’s unfortunate for Alberto and Richie, but it goes with the territory in these kind of stages,” said Froome.
“Those are pretty significant gaps, but it’s too early to rule anyone out of contention.
“My main objective was to stay out of trouble and stretch my legs – I think we can tick that box, and thankfully there were no major issues.”
The puncture was a huge blow to Porte, who came here as joint-leader of BMC alongside American Tejay van Garderen. With so much time lost, the Australian may now find himself reduced to a supporting role.
“It was a disaster, but what can you do?” he said. “I was sitting second wheel in perfect position. I don’t know what the hell I hit, but the next thing I know I had a flat.
“The Tour is far from over, but it’s quite a hard one to take. At the end of the day I guess we’ll just pretend like it never happened and wait for the mountains to come.”
Contador said: “I must stay calm, not lose morale, I’m still standing, but I have been really touched. The Tour has really started on the wrong footing. I’m not happy at all.”
Froome’s team-mate Geraint Thomas – feeling the affects of a late crash on Saturday – also lost time, and is now 38 seconds off yellow, 24 seconds down on Froome.
Cavendish’s day in yellow ended with him finishing one minute 49 seconds behind Sagan – coming over the line in the same group as Porte.
With yellow gone, the Manxman’s attention will turn to collecting more stage wins – his next would be his 28th and move him level with Bernard Hinault at second all-time in the Tour – and the points leader’s green jersey, which once again belongs to Sagan. “I’ve lost too much time to take back yellow, but I’d like to wear green for a little bit,” Cavendish said.
“There’s a chance because the first week is a bit flatter, so it’s a while before Peter goes and gets all those 20-pointers in the intermediates in the mountains. But we’re happy to have worn yellow.”
Until the final kilometre, it looked as though Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven would solo to victory, having attacked out of the break on the first of the three short, sharp climbs at the end of the 183km stage from Saint Lo to Cherbourg.
But he slowed on the last of them, the Cote de la Glacerie where gradients touched 14 per cent, and he was caught with the finish line in sight.
Like Cavendish on Saturday, Sagan is in yellow for the first time in his career.
The Slovakian, winner of the points leader’s green jersey in each of the last four Tours, has an unwanted reputation for finishing second in Tour stages, with a remarkable 16 second-placed finishes to his name, including five last year. This was his fifth Tour stage win, and first since 2013.
But the uphill finish to this 183km run from Saint Lo was perfectly suited to the 26-year-old’s talents and he made it count – much to his own surprise as he thought the break was still clear.
“I am very surprised I won, because I was thinking that there were still two guys in the front,” he said.
“Then when I finished I didn’t know I won and later realised the breakaway had been caught. It is the first time in my career to have the yellow jersey, and it is unbelievable. I’m already wearing a nice jersey [the world champion’s rainbow stripes], but this one is also very nice.”
On Saturday, Cavendish added the missing piece to his collection of cycling’s most prestigious jerseys.
“Winning any stage of the Tour de France is a life-changing moment but this is the first time I’ve had the honour of wearing the most iconic symbol in cycling – the yellow jersey,” said Cavendish, who was keen to use the moment to highlight the Qhubeka charity supported by his team.