Peter Sagan of Slovakia crosses the line ahead of the yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara on the first stage of the 2012 Tour de France.

Story highlights

Peter Sagan wins first stage of the Tour de France

Slovakian outsprinted Fabian Cancellara and Edvald Boasson Hagen

Cancellara keeps race leader's yellow jersey

Pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins remains in second place

CNN  — 

Peter Sagan of Slovakia marked his debut in the Tour de France by winning the first stage of this year’s race in Seraing Sunday.

The 22-year-old Liquigas rider underlined his reputation as the rising star of the peloton by outsprinting Fabian Cancellara and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway after a tough uphill finish to the 198km stage from Liege.

Swiss Cancellara kept the race leader’s yellow jersey he claimed after winning the opening prologue Saturday.

Pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky finished in a whittled down bunch given the same time as the leading three, which also included defending champions Cadel Evans of Australia.

The globalization of the Tour de France

A series of crashes and incidents involving errant spectators made for a difficult finish to the stage for the 198 riders.

After the early breakaway was caught on the outskirts of Seraing, the pace went up as riders made their bid for stage glory.

Sylvain Chavanel of France, who took third in the prologue in Liege behind Cancellara and Wiggins, made an initial attack, but it was RadioShack’s Cancellara who split the field.

Sagan reacted immediately to join him at the front before Team Sky’s Boasson Hagen bridged the gap.

Showing a coolness which belied his inexperience, Sagan timed his final burst perfectly to cross the line with his arms raised in triumph.

He came into the Tour as the favorite to claim the green points jersey, having won five of the eight stages of this year’s Tour of California and shown his versatility in other races.

But it is his first appearance in cycling’s most famous competition and his early victory will put him under the media spotlight.

“I’m very happy, especially after yesterday’s incident at the prologue,” said Sagan, referring to losing time when he nearly came off on a sharp turn.

“My legs were feeling better today. I want to thank my teammates, they did a lot of good work in the last kilometers.”

Monday’s stage takes the riders from Vise to Tournai over 207.5km and is expected to favor sprinters such as Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who has won 20 stages of the Tour de France.