22-year-old Peter Sagan drawing comparisons to cycling's greats
ROUEN, France (AP) -- Green jersey holder Peter Sagan may only be 22, but he's already drawing comparisons to some of cycling's greatest champions, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
"Obviously Lance when he was young was very similar, very explosive very strong looking and robust," said former British champion Sean Yates. "I think we can see the same characteristics in Sagan."
Sagan finished fifth in Wednesday's 132-mile stage from Abbeville to Rouen after adroitly dodging a mass pile-up in the stage's final miles that briefly felled his rival for the race's green sprinter's jersey, Britain's Mark Cavendish.
That means Sagan extended his lead over the reigning world champion in the points competition, with two more flat sprinters' stages coming up on Thursday and Friday.
During Sunday's first stage, the 22-year-old Sagan became the youngest rider to claim a Tour stage victory since Armstrong in 1993, with an uphill sprint win in Seraing, Belgium.
He made it two with another dominating uphill sprint win in Tuesday's stage three in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and race watchers expect the Liquigas-Cannondale rider to notch up more stage wins before the Tour ends in Paris on July 22.
Sagan raced against veteran Armstrong during the American's second comeback in 2010. Yates says he watched Sagan go into a breakaway with Armstrong during the Cancer Council Classic race in Australia that year.
"He was pulling really hard and not looking like he was stressed. I thought, `Who's this guy?"' Yates said before the start of Wednesday's stage in Abbeville.
Before the Tour, Sagan had racked up a string of wins including five stages of the Tour of California and four stages in the Tour of Switzerland.
Yates, who rode alongside Armstrong early in his career on the Motorola team, calls the young Slovak "a phenomenon."
"I'm sure he will win bigger and better races, where he will go I don't know," Yates said.
VANDE VELDE RUES 'HORRIBLE DAY'
A day before his American compatriots would celebrate Independence Day back home, Christian Vande Velde lamented a "horrible day" at the Tour de France for his American Garmin-Sharp team.
The Lemont, Ill., native and son of former pro cyclist John Vande Velde rued the number of crashes in cycling, including one of four that brought down him and several teammates during Tuesday's third stage.
"It's just part of the first part of the race," said the 32-year-old Vande Velde. "They're always there, and a lot of times it's just going down straight roads, and people are hesitating, just because they see something."
Teammate Tom Danielson - a rider from East Lyme, Conn., who placed eighth last year in his debut Tour - crashed hard Tuesday, separating his shoulder, losing more than 9 minutes on the top title contenders. His longshot chances of victory or a podium finish vanished in that fall.
Vande Velde hit his head and got scraped up in his own spill, and lost a little more than 2 minutes on the stage. But Garmin's Canadian leader, Ryder Hesjedal, the Italian Giro winner, was unscathed.
Vande Velde took it all in stride as he spoke to reporters before the start Wednesday of Stage 4 from Abbeville to Rouen, in the Normandy region where U.S. forces stormed ashore to help liberate France in World War II.
"It's just nervousness, and unfortunately, I was caught in the brunt of that yesterday," he said of the crashes, adding that the team's priorities are now in greater focus. "From now on, it makes a clear leader in Ryder."
MONCOUTIE'S LAST RIDE
A veteran of 10 Tour de France races, David Moncoutie has embarked on one last ride in the race many think he could have excelled in had he not raced during the darkest days of the sport.
Riding with the Cofidis team since turning professional in 1997, the Frenchman is considered one of the cleanest riders of the bunch.
David Millar, who rode with him at Cofidis at a time he admitted taking EPO, recently told L'Equipe newspaper that he was jealous of Moncoutie's mental strength to refuse banned substances while he could not resist the temptation.
"Of course I have some regrets," Moncoutie said after taking part in a long though ultimately unsuccessful breakaway during the fourth stage. "I've sometimes been robbed, but some others rode in even worse years. And fortunately, although there were dopers, it didn't prevent me from winning races."
The 37-year-old Moncoutie won two stages on the Tour in 2005 and 2004. He achieved his best overall result in 2002, finishing 13th that year. He also claimed stage victories at the Spanish Vuelta.