Peter Sagan overcame a flat tire in the final seven miles to win the opening state of the Tour of California in a sprint finish on Sunday.
The Slovakian, one of the most promising riders in professional cycling, further enhanced his growing reputation when he won the 116-mile stage, that started and finished in Santa Rosa.
The 22-year-old got back in the saddle after changing his rear wheels and timed his run to perfection to win the stage by about two bike lengths, in a time of four hours, 42 minutes, 36 seconds.
“It was a really confusing sprint because it was a small field,” Sagan said. “With 10 kilometres to go I flatted, but I knew there was time to get back in. Thanks to the work of my teammates I didn’t panic, and we were able to get back on easily.”
Australian Heinrich Haussler finished second in the opening stage while American Fred Rodriguez crossed the line third, both in the same time as Sagan.
Sagan lost around 25 seconds to the field while mechanics changed his rear wheel, but two of Sagan’s teammates towed him back to the main field in quick order.
It was Sagan’s fourth stage win at the Tour of California, the most prestigious cycling event in the United States, and the 27th overall of his professional career, but he did not expect to win the eight-day Tour.
“It is going to be very hard to hold onto the yellow jersey,” Sagan said. “I’m okay on the smaller climbs, but it’s only going to get harder and harder as the week goes on.”
Tom Boonen of Belgium, the world’s No. 1 ranked road cyclist, suffered a puncture just before the sprint to the line and was unable to make an impact.
As the pace increased before the sprint to the line, several riders crashed near the front of the peloton. Last year’s winner, American Chris Horner, survived unscathed and finished in the middle of the pack.
The Tour continues today with a 117-mile stage from San Francisco to Aptos.
Today’s stage: San Francisco to Santa Cruz County
START: 11:05 a.m.
ESTIMATED FINISH: 3:53 p.m.
ABOUT THE STAGE: Beginning at Marina Green, the start line will run right to the break wall of San Francisco Bay. The backdrop? Breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Marin Headlands. However, the riders’ stay in The City will be short-lived because within a few minutes, the race will have passed through the Presidio with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. From here, Stage 2 will continue south on Highway 1 through Pacifica and Daly City before ending at Cabrillo College in Aptos.