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Cancellara maintains early lead in Tour de France

Mon., July 2, 2012

SERAING, Belgium – Rising cycling star Peter Sagan of Slovakia won the first stage of the Tour de France on Sunday ahead of Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, who retained the overall lead.

Defending champion Cadel Evans and fellow title contender Bradley Wiggins of Britain trailed close behind in the pack after the 123-mile loop from Liege to suburban Seraing featuring five low-grade climbs.

Sagan, at age 22 one of cycling’s most promising riders, placed his hands on his shoulders as he collected his first Tour stage win in a three-man sprint ahead of Cancellara, who was second, and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway in third.

Cancellara, who won the Tour’s opening-day prologue, leads Wiggins in the overall standings by 7 seconds. France’s Sylvain Chavanel is third with the same time. Evans is 17 seconds behind the Swiss leader.

The 198-rider pack split up during a final climb, when the stage turned into a three-man race. Sagan hugged the wheel of Cancellara then whipped around him less than 150 yards before the finish to win in 4 hours, 58 minutes, 19 seconds.

“I am really, really happy,” Sagan said. “I was the only one who could follow (Cancellara). I was tight behind him. I was just happy to stay on his wheel.”

Wiggins wore the best sprinter’s green jersey after placing second in Saturday’s prologue – an honor granted to him because Cancellara cannot wear both the green and the yellow jersey.

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