Saint-Atienne: Peter Sagan finished second for the fourth time at this Tour de France as Alexander Kristoff won Thursday's 12th stage. Sagan now has seven top four finishes and has come home in the top 10 nine times out of 12 stages but has yet to win one this year.
Once again the 24-year-old was just pipped in a sprint finish as Norwegian Kristoff took victory after 185.5km of undulating terrain from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Etienne, with young Frenchman Arnaud Demare third.
Slovak Sagan said it must be his destiny to keep coming home in second spot and clung to his green points jersey as some sort of consolation. "It's hot, I keep trying hard every day and always I'm second," he said with a wry smile.
"I'm just looking forward and I want to come to Paris with the green jersey." He added: "It's destiny, second place is good, everything was OK. My team put me on the front in the last 3km. I was in a good position but Kristoff was better today."
Sagan has a mammoth lead of more than 150 points in the green jersey competition and pretty much needs only to reach Paris to ensure a third straight success in that competition. And he said that perhaps he was paying in the final sprints because he is there almost every day fighting for the win.
"Maybe it's because from the first stage until now, every day I'm in front and maybe I'm a little bit more tired than the other sprinters, who are a little bit more relaxed." - No frustration - But he denied he was getting frustrated by his inability to snatch a stage win.
"Maybe other riders in the group would like to be second four times like me. Maybe for other sprinters it's more difficult to take the green jersey," he said. Kristoff said Sagan perhaps had a point about tiredness as he had saved his legs the previous day.
"Yesterday (Wednesday) I took it easy ahead of today's stage," said the Katusha sprinter. "Maybe that was the key to success, saving my legs. I was feeling quite good yesterday and today even on the climbs I still felt quite good and was never on the limit."
Kristoff won one of the Monuments of cycling in March, the Milan-San Remo one-day Spring Classic race, and he said this came a close second. "The team is set up for the Classics. When I won San Remo it was bigger for the team.
"This was my second goal this year, the Spring Classics was the first goal and now I've achieved both." Italian Vincenzo Nibali maintained the leader's yellow jersey with a 2min 23sec lead over Australian Richie Porte and 2:47 to Spain's Alejandro Valverde after they all finished safely in the peloton.
The day started with the gritty hero of Wednesday's stage Andrew Talansky pulling out due to an injured back and hip. He had toiled for more than 100km alone on Wednesday's stage to get home inside the cut-off point, managing to do so despite finishing 32 minutes behind the winner.
But he said he was "heartbroken" after pulling out before Thursday's start. Once the stage began, a five-man breakaway went clear at around the 10km mark but was gradually whittled down to just Australian Simon Clarke.
David De la Cruz crashed badly and quit the race with a collarbone injury while one-by-one Frenchman Florian Vachon, Swiss Gregory Rast and finally Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld tailed off the pace.
Orica GreenEDGE's Clarke was caught by counter-attacking Frenchmen Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quemeneur with 20km left but they were all reeled in with 5km to go.
Sagan's Cannondale team took over the pace-setting duties in a bid to finally drag their team leader to a stage victory as several top sprinters were shelled out the back of the field. German Gent-Wevelgem winner John Degenkolb was boxed in at the finish by Matteo Trentin allowing Kristoff to storm past for the victory.