After 209 kilometres from Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern, stage honours were settled by a matter of inches as world champion Sagan claimed his third stage victory of this Tour.
It was so close, the Slovakian thought he had finished second – for what would have been the 18th time in his career on the Tour – until his team told him he had his seventh career Tour stage win.
“I was not waiting for the results, I thought I was second until they came and told me I had won,” Sagan said. “It’s unbelievable. After so many times finishing second… The wheel turns.”
Sagan said he believed that Katusha’s Kristoff had made a critical error that gifted him the win, throwing his bike forward a moment too late.
“It was a crazy finale, very technical,” the Tinkoff rider said. “Everyone wanted to be on my wheel. I think Kristoff made a mistake in the sprint. He jumped very late and that’s how I won.”
Team Sky’s Froome was in the leading pack, finishing 13th, as he and his rivals finished on the same time to keep the status quo in the general classification heading into Tuesday’s rest day.
Froome leads by one minute and 47 seconds from Trek- Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema
Briton Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange is third, two minutes and 45 seconds back and leading the young riders’ classification, with Movistar’s Nairo Quintana fourth, a further 14 seconds down.
“The main thing for me and Team Sky was to get me to the finish line in one piece and hopefully not taking any kind of time gaps to my rivals or anything,” Froome said.
“It’s another day we can tick off and everyone is pretty grateful we’ve got a rest day tomorrow. We’ll soak that up and look forward to the Alps in the next few days.”
Although this was a relatively flat stage ahead of the Alpine challenges to come, the tight technical finish in the Swiss city of Bern – which included a sharp cobbled climb two kilometres from the finish – was thought to suit the likes of Sagan and so it proved.
However, it was far from straightforward as no one could break clear on the climb and a number of sprint specialists – including Manxman Mark Cavendish and Germany’s Marcel Kittel – were still in the leading pack heading down the final straight.
But, when Kristoff opened up the sprint, only a few could stay with him.
The Norwegian looked to have all the advantage he needed but Sagan threw his bike forward at the line and snatched a win which all but ends the competition for the points leaders’ green jersey.
Trek-Segafredo’s Fabian Cancellara, the 35-year-old Bern native in his final Tour de France, had to settle for sixth place.
Team Dimension Data had hoped to make an impression to repeat Steve Cummings’ emotional Nelson Mandela Day victory of a year ago, but Edvald Boasson Hagen could not find space in the final sprint and came home in ninth place.
His team-mate Cavendish, winner of four stages in this Tour, did not have the legs to engage in the sprint coming off the climb and rolled home in 24th place.