Peter Sagan delivered his 12th career Tour de France stage victory in Colmar as Julian Alaphilippe retained the yellow jersey for a third day.
Former world champion Sagan powered his way around Mitchelton-Scott’s Matteo Trentin and held off Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert in the final straight as the 175.5km stage from Saint-Die-des-Vosges was settled in a sprint finish.
Sagan’s first stage win of this year’s Tour saw the Bora-Hansgrohe rider strengthen his grip on the points leader’s green jersey, which he is attempting to win for what would be a record seventh time.
Asked how the stage five win made him feel, the 29-year-old said: “Exquisite.”
“I just have to ride with passion and the victory comes,” he added. “I have to say thanks to all my team-mates. They have done a great job and finally we have the Tour de France victory that we were looking for.
“It’s very nice for us. We controlled all day, on the flat part and towards the finish. I did my best. Everyone needs good luck and a good day for winning.”
Frenchman Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step, who has worn yellow since his solo win on stage three to Epernay, crossed the line in 10th place to retain the overall lead.
Second place on the day for Van Aert sees Alaphilippe’s cushion in yellow cut to 14 seconds, although Thursday’s first mountain stage to La Planche des Belles Filles is likely to see a complete rewrite of the general classification.
The yellow jersey contenders, their eyes already firmly set on the challenges to come, all crossed the line safely in the pack to ensure there was no significant movement in the standings.
That leaves defending champion Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos in seventh place, 45 seconds off yellow and five seconds behind his team-mate and co-leader Egan Bernal in sixth.
And Thomas admitted that Thursday’s stage favours his younger team-mate.
“It was nice to get a bit of climbing in the legs and build up for tomorrow,” the Welshman said. “You can’t really tell a lot from the last few days. We will find out a lot tomorrow. It will be interesting. There are a lot of climbs before the last one tomorrow. It will be a challenge.
“(The final climb) is hard. I did it just before (the Tour de) Suisse. That sort of climb favours the punchy, pure climbers, Egan for one. Then in other teams guys like (Adam) Yatesy, Ritchie (Porte), (Nairo) Quintana. It suits those guys.”
Many had tipped a breakaway for success on Wednesday’s stage, which included four categorised climbs, including the category two Trois-Epis and the category three Cinq Chateaux in the final 45km.
But the last of a four-man break, Toms Skujins, was caught on the final climb and a reduced bunch headed into Colmar to contest stage honours.
UAE Team Emirates’ Rui Costa attempted an ambitious breakaway attempt at the last but was reeled in with two kilometres to go before Sagan delivered for his travelling army of Slovakian fans.
Nicolas Roche stays a minute off the overall lead but drops to 20th on general classification, while Dan Martin is 35th, 28 seconds further back.