Team Sky is not the only outfit entering the 99th Tour de France with ambitions to capture yellow and green in Paris. And for one Peter Sagan, the latter is quickly becoming a fait accompli, writes Anthony Tan.
When I race, I think only to be the best.“He’s still very young, we have to preserve him for the future,” Liquigas direttore sportivo, Dario Mariuzzo, said midway through the 2011 season.
It seems questa squadra can preserve him no more.
Barring incident in the next fifteen days, Peter Sagan will begin his maiden Tour de France voyage when La Grande Boucle sets sail from Liège on June 30, as co-leader alongside team-mate Vincenzo Nibali.
There are so many superlatives apposite for this Slovakian wunderkind but perhaps most astonishing is this juicy titbit: the 22-year-old with more than 30 victories to his name in just two-and-a-half professional seasons was rejected after a stagiaire stint with Quick Step in 2009. In disgust he quit the sport and, albeit briefly, returned to manual labour (as a brickie, I believe) before his parents urged that cycling was a vocation he could excel in.
How Patrick Lefevere, Quick Step’s team manager, must rue his decision now, even if Tom Boonen has been a man reborn this season.
In 2010, when Liquigas signed him on a two-year deal, before too long, they did something Quick Step rather naively did not, subjecting the then 19-year-old to a barrage of physical tests. The response from the team doctors was not so different to Cadel Evans’ first VO2 evaluation at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra way back when, both almost tearing the laboratory trainer apart. Perhaps Sagan was slightly more impressive, though, because his preternatural results showed a physical maturity far beyond his years, rather than a precociously talented candidate whose potential was huge but largely unknown, as was the case with Evans.
Right from the get-go, Sagan displayed Flandrian robustness and tenacity when, in his first big race at the Tour Down Under, he crashed on the second stage; no less than 17 stitches were required to patch his arm and thigh. Three days later, he showed he was one of the four strongest riders after breaking away on Old Willunga Hill with Evans, Alejandro Valverde and Luis León Sánchez, but so spent was the neophyte by the finish, he found himself unable to contest the win.
Fast-forward two more years and unsurprisingly Peter’s palmarès is looking rather packed, prim to the brim with results of note.
Eleven wins already this season alone, plus two sprint classification victories (soon to be three when the Tour de Suisse wraps up this Sunday). Not to mention a heady quartet of top-five places in Milan-San Remo (4th), Gent-Wevelgem (2nd), Tour of Flanders (5th) and the Amstel Gold Race (3rd).
A Cavendish-Gilbert-Boonen-Hushovd cross, you might say. And I wouldn’t argue with you if you did.
“When I race, I think only to be the best,” said the self-described ‘passista-velocista’ (essentially, a rouleur-sprinter). “I like to challenge the famous riders.”
He likes to beat them, too, it seems. And like Evans and this year’s Giro champ Ryder Hesjedal, yet another man with a mountain-bike pedigree taking the road world by storm.
It might sound odd saying this but I’m not convinced Liquigas-Cannondale is the best place for him. Their emphasis is more on Italian riders such as Ivan Basso and Nibali and aside from Daniel Oss, his only real lead-out man, never does he receive a ‘train’ the likes of Mark Cavendish, Matt Goss and André Greipel command and regularly enjoy.
He might well have double the victories if he did.
But en France, should Nibali falter early in the Alps and fall out of contention, the Lime Green Machine will have no choice but to ride for Sagan, who, barring incident, is virtually assured the maillot vert.
And do not think he won’t go the distance: he made his Grand Tour debut at last year’s Vuelta a España and won three stages, and if it wasn’t for the Spanish tour’s convoluted points system, he would have won that, too.
In light of this forgone conclusion, then, let me ask you a question.
Should Goss and GreenEDGE even bother prosecuting such a far-flung objective at the Tour (considering it may well impact Australia’s chances of victory in the Olympic Games road race, held less than a week later), and simply focus on stage wins and TV time in breakaways instead?