LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France, July 8 (Reuters) - A year after being kicked out of the Tour de France, world champion Peter Sagan was back with a bang as he claimed victory in the second stage to take the overall leader’s yellow jersey on Sunday.
The Slovak was thrown out after the fourth stage 12 months ago for sending Mark Cavendish crashing in a chaotic sprint, but he won it clean this time to beat Italian Sonny Colbrelli and France’s Arnaud Demare into second and third places.
“It’s a perfect day, I was a bit scared because Sonny was coming back strong,” said Sagan, who also wore the yellow jersey in 2016.
“It’s a very good start. I’m really back.”
Colombian Fernando Gaviria, who won the opening stage on Saturday and wore the yellow jersey during the 182.5-km ride from Mouilleron-Saint-Germain, crashed in the finale and was unable to contest the sprint.
German Marcel Kittel, who has 14 Tour stage wins under his belt, suffered a puncture just under eight kilometres from the line and could not make it back to the front of the bunch in time.
The final sprint was contested by a dozen riders after a massive pile-up split the bunch, with Gaviria and Australian Michael Matthews, suffering in the crash.
Demare launched the sprint 250 metres from the line and Sagan jumped ahead of him with ease before holding off Colbrelli in the final metres.
Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez, who has four Tour stage wins to his name, pulled out after he sustained a possible shoulder injury in a crash 37km from the finish.
Defending champion Chris Froome, who lost 51 seconds to some of his main rivals after crashing on Saturday, had an uneventful day on the bike and finished safely in the peloton.
The Briton, hoping to become the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to achieve a Giro d’Italia-Tour double, was booed by the French crowd ahead of the start.
Froome has been cleared of any wrongdoing after testing positive for excessive levels of the anti-asthma drug Salbutamol, but the locals have been jeering and whistling the four-times champion since the teams’ presentation on Thursday.
Ethiopian Tsgabu Grmay became the first rider to abandon the race, suffering with abdominal pain.
Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Ed Osmond