POITIERS, France (AP) — Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan secured his second stage victory at this year’s Tour de France in a chaotic dash to the finish Wednesday that saw Peter Sagan penalized for barging a rival.
Sagan, squeezed up against barriers on the right-hand side of the finishing straight, made room for himself by leaning his left shoulder into Belgian rider Wout Van Aert.
The irregular move cost Sagan his second place behind Ewan. The Slovakian was dropped back to 85th place.
Irish rider Sam Bennett was bumped up to second and Van Aert to third.
Afterward, Van Aert and Sagan had a sharp exchange of words.
“There wasn’t a gap and if you use your elbows to open it up, I think it’s completely against the rules,” said Van Aert, a two-time stage winner this year.
“It’s already dangerous enough and I was really surprised and shocked at the moment that I felt something,” he said. “Really scared.”
In the race for the overall win, Primoz Roglic stayed safe on the rolling ride to Poitiers to keep the race leader’s yellow jersey. The 167-kilometer (104-mile) stage started on France’s Atlantic coast.
Ewan skirted Bennett in the last meters (yards) and threw his front wheel across the line.
“It was very, very hectic,” said Ewan. “Quite crazy.”
The 25-year-old Ewan, racing for the Lotto Soudal team, also won Stage 3 and three stages at his inaugural Tour last year.
Sagan’s relegation also cost him dearly in his hunt for the Tour’s green jersey, awarded to riders who collect the most points in sprints along the route and at finishes. Losing second place cost Sagan 30 points and awarded them instead to Bennett.
Bennett and Sagan have been locked in a tight duel for that prize, repeatedly taking the jersey off each other. Sagan has a record seven green jersey titles from previous Tours but is now seeing Bennett get away from him, 68 points clear with few other opportunities for sprinters to shine before the final dash on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sept. 20.
The last week and a half of the Tour will see riders who are chasing the overall title fighting to dislodge Roglic. He has a lead of 21 seconds over second-placed Egan Bernal, last year’s champion, and is 28 seconds ahead of third-placed French rider Guillaume Martin.
On Thursday, the remaining 161 riders will tackle the longest stage of this year’s route, a hilly 218-kilometer (135-mile) trek from Chauvigny to Sarran. That will be followed Friday by an even tougher stage with a sharp mountain-top finish that could prompt battles between the top contenders.
Given the challenges ahead, the pack largely took it easy Wednesday before the final approach to Poitiers.
Matthieu Ladagnous, a 35-year-old French rider, punched on his pedals just moments after the stage start, immediately racing into the front.
But no one joined him in the breakaway, leaving him to ride alone for more than three hours and over 120 kilometers (75 miles) before he was then swallowed up by the pack with 43 kilometers (27 miles) to go to the finish.