If the talent of Peter Sagan wasn’t fully understood before this past couple of weeks, then worry no more. The way the young 23-year old Slovakian cyclist has ripped up the early part of the season has been nothing short of astonishing, leaving the likes of Mark Cavendish to refer to him as a “machine” and others to draw comparisons to the great Eddy Merckx.
That might be getting ahead of ourselves somewhat, though maybe not as much as you might think and it’s something I’ll look into further in a future article. Suffice to say though he’s the finest young talent in cycling today and despite being beaten into second in both Monument Classics so far, it’s the style in which he’s tried to win and how he’s featured in every big race he’s been involved in that’s made him the man of Spring thus far.
At 23 the future sure is bright and Fabian Cancellara aside, he might well be the most feared man in the professional peloton right now. Gerald Ciolek pipping him to the line at the Milan – San Remo a few weeks ago may hint at slight tactical naivety, but even in that loss he showed how good he can be. He attacked on the final climb — The Poggio — and descended away from the field bringing with him just a small selection of riders. The rest made him do the bulk of the work and took turns trying to attack him, letting him bring it back together each time. In the sprint in which he should have been favorite, he was forced to start it earlier than he might otherwise have done, and it cost him on the line.
But he’ll learn from it.
Indeed, at Gent-Wevelgem he got across to the leading break and rather than let them follow his wheel and try attack him ahead of a sprint he was favourite to win, he decided to attack them first, leaving them all for dead with 4km to go, riding alone to a victory that seen him wheelie over the line.
It’s that expression of love for riding the bike as seen in his aggressive style, not to mention his endless collection of entertaining celebrations when he wins, that endears him to cycling fans. In an era in which many athletes across the broad spectrum of sports are too well PR trained, too well paid to the point that the money can become their focus, and too far above the fans to give them the time of day, young Sagan looks like someone naively in love with the sport who enjoys entertaining us. Long may that playful innocence continue and to hell with the pompous few who feel offended by it.
Two days later Sagan was back on his bike in the Tour de Panne, a race he was calling — to the dismay of his rivals, I’d imagine — a “training ride” for the Tour of Flanders. That is, you see, if training rides result in you beating up on your opponents once again? He went on the attack with 20 kilometers to go on the final climb and then won the sprint from a small group of ten that he had dragged clear. A day later he sat up allowing the leaders jersey to pass onto the shoulders of Arnaud Demare as Mark Cavendish took the bunch gallop meaning he could withdraw from the race without doing so as race leader. Alexander Kristoff and Sylvain Chavanel went on to win the split stages on day three with Chavanel taking the overall.
We were heading into the final day of March and Sagan had already notched up seven wins on the season. He was the man to beat for Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, that much was certain.