July 04, 2012

BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, France (AP) -- Slovak sensation Peter Sagan again showed why he is, at only 22, one of the most exciting riders in professional cycling.

Just two days after becoming the youngest Tour de France stage winner since Lance Armstrong, Sagan's victory in Tuesday's third stage made him only the third cyclist in the last quarter century to win multiple stages in his first appearance in cycling's showcase event.

On a steep uphill climb in the final instants of the stage, Sagan whipped past a surging pack that included yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara and defending Tour champion Cadel Evans, sprinting across the line a second ahead of his chasers.

The Liquigas-Cannondale rider's performance - Sagan churned his arms like a runner as he crossed the line in a gesture he said was a nod to the title character in "Forrest Gump" - left even his rivals in awe.

"It's a bit like watching (Lionel) Messi play football or something isn't it?" Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said. "He's winning with such apparent ease at the moment that it's pretty phenomenal."

The uphill finish favored riders like Brailsford's young Norwegian rider, Edvald Boasson Hagen, whose talent is in short and steep sprints at the end of long stages, like the two stages he won in last year's Tour.

Boasson Hagen finished second Tuesday, 1 second behind Sagan, while another Slovak, Peter Velits, crossed the line third.

"You just tip your hat, smile and think wow, `He's enjoyable to watch isn't he,' although it'd be nice to watch Edvald come across first," Brailsford said.

Former world champion Tom Boonen was the last rider to notch multiple stage victories during his inaugural Tour, winning two in 2004. The only other rider in the last 25 years to achieve the feat was Dutchman Jean-Paul van Poppel in 1987, according to sports data provider Infostrada Sports.

Sky, a British squad assembled around Bradley Wiggins with the goal of becoming the first British team to win the Tour de France in 99 editions, suffered a big loss Tuesday when Kanstantsin Sivtsov broke his left shin in a crash and became the first rider to leave this year's Tour.

Brailsford said the loss was "a setback, but not a devastating setback" for Sky's goal.

"It's not ideal but it's not the end of the world either," Brailsford said. "It's like boxing isn't it, you take a punch and as long as you've got gloves on and you're fighting you can still knock the other fellow out can't you?"

Spain's Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar was felled in a later crash and also left the race. A third rider, Rabobank's Maarten Tjallingii, withdrew after finishing the stage with a broken hip, leaving 195 racers still in competition.

Overall Cancellara leads Wiggins in second and Sylvain Chavanel of France in third, both 7 seconds back. Defending champ Cadel Evans climbed from eighth to seventh place, 17 seconds behind. U.S. rider Tejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing was fourth, 10 seconds off the pace.

With the pack jostling to get up front for the climbs near the finish there were at least four crashes, including one within the last mile. Several riders also had mechanical trouble or flats.

"The group was nervous. Everyone wanted to be up front; there were a lot of crashes," Sagan told France-2 television. "It was a very dangerous stage."

U.S. sprint specialist Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp went down in one crash and was delayed by a second. He and several teammates rallied together to rejoin the main pack.

Wednesday's fourth stage takes riders on another ride over several hills in a 134-mile leg from Abbeville to Rouen in the heart of Normandy.

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