Three-time world champion Peter Sagan warned his sprint rivals there was more to come after he powered to victory on stage five of the Tour de France.
The Bora-Hansgrohe rider was too strong for Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain-Merida and Quick-Step’s Philippe Gilbert in a sprint which came at the top of a short, punishing climb into Quimper.
Chris Froome and Adam Yates finished safely in the front group with no major changes to the general classification.
It was Sagan’s second stage win of this Tour following stage two into La Roche-sur-Yon on Sunday, and the 10th of his career.
The short climb inside the final kilometre tempted a number of the classics specialists to the fore, including BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet in the yellow jersey but once the road levelled off it was Sagan who still had the most power left in his legs.
“I’m hoping still to improve,” the Slovakian said. “The Tour is very long and we are only on the fifth stage.
“Gilbert attacked a bit early, trying to drop everybody. Then Greg went early which was good for me as it meant I could follow. I just held off Colbrelli. I managed to keep my sprint longer.”
With Team Sunweb’s Michael Matthews forced to abandon the race in the morning, a sixth green jersey in seven years already looks like being Sagan’s to lose.
Van Avermaet may have had to settle for seventh on the stage but he strengthened his grip on yellow, albeit slightly, as he used the late bonus sprint to pick up a couple of seconds on team-mate Tejay Van Garderen.
Gilbert’s third place saw him nip in front of Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who dropped one place to fourth overall, five seconds off yellow at the end of 204.5 kilometres of twisty, rolling roads from Lorient.
Though there was no major shift in the general classification, a number of contenders made their presence felt late on, not least Irishman Dan Martin who finished in sixth for UAE Team Emirates and almost made a dig for stage honours.
“I thought I had a chance on the last kilometre but I haven’t really been working on my sprint, I’ve been working on the big mountains,” he said.
“When it slowed down with 400 metres to go I thought about jumping but because of the corners it would have been impossible.”
Martin is 24th in the general classification, one minute 40 seconds down after suffering in Monday’s team time trial.
With no gaps in the front group, Chris Froome sits 15th overall, 57 seconds off yellow, while Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates is a further five seconds back in 16th place.
Their thoughts will now turn to Thursday’s stage from Brest to Mur de Bretagne, where riders will tackle the short, sharp climb twice.
The climb, two kilometres long at an average of 6.9 per cent gradient, featured on stage eight of the 2015 Tour, when Martin finished second to Alexis Vuillermoz while Froome – en route to overall victory – was eighth.
“Tomorrow will be interesting with the Mur de Bretagne twice,” Froome said. “You always see a bit of action. I’m looking forward to it. I always prefer those stages to the long flat days.”
Yates also has fond memories of that day in 2015 as he pipped Froome to seventh place.
“We did it in 2015 and I was up there in the top, so I know the climb,” the Bury-born rider said. “I raced it at under-23 level as well. It’s a climb that suits me.
“Whether we’ll see GC guys fighting for the win I’m not sure. If an opportunity comes around then we’ll try something.”