Superb Sagan sends a message at Gent-Wevelgem

Tim Renowden Columnist

By Tim Renowden, Tim Renowden is a Roar Expert

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    Peter Sagan is one of the leading contenders for a stage win today (Image: La Gazzetta dello Sport)

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    If you’ve been living under a moss-covered rock for the last two years, you may not have heard that Peter Sagan is rapidly becoming cycling’s next superstar.

    For those of us who have seen more than a minute of bike racing, it’s almost old news how explosively talented this 23 year-old is, but just when you think he can’t possibly get any better, another outrageous, audacious, superlative-defying performance raises his brilliance to another level.

    His victory at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday was a powerful riposte to arch-rival Fabian Cancellara’s own heroics to claim the E3 Harelbeke prize on Friday.

    Cancellara had blown Friday’s race apart with a 35km solo attack, relegating Sagan to second place, a minute down.

    It was a brilliant ride from Cancellara, crushing the souls of an elite chase group with a sustained production of almost coal-fired power outputs.

    For most riders, second place in a minor classic behind a rampaging Spartacus would be a good day’s work. For Sagan, it was an insult that demanded an emphatic response – which he wasted no time in delivering at Gent-Wevelgem.

    Sagan’s reply was to launch his own solo attack (albeit only 4km from the finish) to grab the win, while Cancellara watched on from his team bus, having failed to finish.

    Considering Sagan is an incredible sprinter, and was likely to win anyway from a twelve-man breakaway group including a teammate to lead him out. A solo attack was completely unnecessary.

    Unnecessary unless he wanted to make a point that anything Cancellara can do, Sagan can do better. In an act of quite stunning bravado, Sagan simply rode his companions off his wheel, and continued to extend the gap until the final kilometre.

    That his victory celebration was a wheelie across the line could be interpreted as a middle finger raised directly at Cancellara, who has criticised Sagan’s victory salutes as over-the-top and disrespectful.

    It’s not surprising that there’s been bad blood between the two, as they’ve built an intense rivalry this season in the absence of Tom Boonen from the sharp end of the early classics, and seem to have very different personalities.

    The contest between the two will be fascinating through the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, after it probably cost one of them the win at Milan-San Remo (their cat and mouse game allowed Gerald Ciolek to swoop in the finale).

    But we’re here to talk about Sagan.

    Already this season he has won Gent-Wevelgem, two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico, two stages of the Tour of Oman, and the Gran Premio Città di Camaiore.

    Throw in second places at Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, and Strade Bianche, and you can see he’s been incredibly consistent.

    Of course, his ability to win (or come close) from almost any race situation is what enables this consistency.

    Sagan has won bunch sprints on the flat (beating Cavendish, Greipel and Goss in stage 3 at Tirreno-Adriatico).

    He has won from long breakaways over steep climbs, shredding everyone but climbers like Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez (stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico). In this win he destroyed riders of the calibre of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.

    He has won uphill sprints; from long breakaways in groups; and in solo breakaways. He can attack on the hills and on the descents.

    Short of the kind of epic mountain stages we only see in grand tours, there is almost no race that Sagan is not capable of winning.

    At times his critics have suggested that he has lost races by being too talented, or too arrogant. Perhaps his belief that he can win from any situation has caused him to make tactical mistakes.

    I think there is some truth to this criticism; at times he has tried to do too much and been beaten as a result.

    However, to be fair to Sagan, no rider is immune from tactical errors, and he is racing against high quality opposition who will seize on any mistakes. He is inexperienced, but this will change quickly.

    As a result of his versatility, he is now inevitably listed as one of the top favourites for nearly every classic he enters, and in stage races as well.

    In 2012, Sagan was third in the Amstel Gold Race and fifth in the Tour of Flanders.

    This year, with his form and confidence ever expanding, it would not be surprising to see him winning both. Another epic battle with Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix? Perhaps even a showdown with the master, Tom Boonen?

    It’s an enticing prospect, whether you like his victory salute antics or not.

    By the end of April, we may well be counting Sagan’s classics palmares on two fists.

    He’s now a bona fide star, and still rising.

    Tim Renowden
    Tim Renowden

    Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. An ex-runner, now a club grade bike racer, Tim tweets about sport at @megabicicleta.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2013 @ 10:53am
      Bones506 said | March 26th 2013 @ 10:53am | ! Report

      The kid is a freak and can win in almost any situation. Cav would be very concerned me thinks.

      I get the feeling Sagan is testing out his sustained ‘Diesel’ capabilities and will build up his long range attacks which have yielded Boonen and Cancellara many results over the years.

    • Columnist

      March 26th 2013 @ 11:34am
      Kate Smart said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:34am | ! Report

      He is indeed very good, and as for the victory salutes, well, we’ve all been 23 and obnoxious haven’t we?

      It is a bit scary to think about what he can do though. As you’ve said Tim, he can win in a range of scenarios.

      Can I say he’s not one of my favourite riders though? I know I am the only person on planet earth not in love with him, even though he is very good. I don’t mind his arrogance, as I said, we’ve all been young, but there is something missing. Graciousness?

      Should be a fantastic Classics season for us bleary eyed spectators.

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2013 @ 11:44am
        Tim Renowden said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:44am | ! Report

        Yep, the contrast with the ever classy and gracious Cancellara is pretty obvious. I would say that I admire Sagan for his ability a lot more than I admire his character, but as you pointed out Kate, we were all 23 and obnoxious once (even without the outrageous talent).

        Maybe he’ll mature into a more likeable person, maybe he won’t. In the meantime he’s going to blow plenty of races apart!

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2013 @ 12:57pm
      Bones506 said | March 26th 2013 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

      He is a bit of a prankster and the sport always needs a character – Cippolini come to mind.

      Agreed on his age – he is 23 and from what I understand humble beginnings so I guess he is just enjoying his time in the sun as it doesn’t last forever.

    • March 26th 2013 @ 1:10pm
      Sasa said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

      Talking about victory salutes and whether you like them or not sure beats talking about doping which is all anyone has really talked about lately. A bit of a character is good for the sport and some of us are meant to dislike it. It’s what makes it interesting. Can’t wait for Sunday night!

    • Columnist

      March 26th 2013 @ 1:21pm
      Sean Lee said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

      I wish that the reason I lost races was because I was too talented!

    • March 27th 2013 @ 7:11am
      liquor box said | March 27th 2013 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      I cant wait to see what he does at the Grand Tours this year, I think he will definatley have a chance at a jersey of some type. He has a good shot at a green jersey as he is able to climb well enough to get to the intermediate sprints first and will get a lot of points at the end of stages too.

      An interesting thing to ponder is whether he can win a climbers jersey, just for his fun! This seems like a jersey he should never win, but who would have picked Voekler to win one??

      If he learns to TT he will be capable of anything

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