• He's human - but only just. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
He came to South Australia expecting a little more of himself than his visit last year. But as of Friday afternoon at the Santos Tour Down under, Peter Sagan, despite all he's accomplished, is entering unknown territory, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
19 Jan 2018 - 6:43 PM 

How would you describe yourself?

"Baah... Er, well... How I can describe me?"

A long pause. A shrug of the shoulders.

"Like (a) person. Human."

After Friday's scorcher of a stage at the Santos Tour Down Under, one would have to agree that, yes, Peter Sagan is human - but only just.

There could well be much more we haven't yet seen from the World of Peter Sagan.

The barely human Slovakian couldn't have won a more different race to the one last Sunday, where he out-sprinted Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) at the People's Choice Classic criterium.

"I didn't expect that I could win," he said of the traditional Tour Down Under opener.

But he did.

Pundits said it appeared he was a notch better than his return visit last year, following a six-year absence from Australia's premier stage race. Robbie McEwen, three-time green jersey champion at the Tour de France, surmised he'd done a little more sprint training this time 'round, having finished second thrice to Ewan in the 2017 race edition.

During today's commentary, McEwen said it was not so much the climb of Norton Summit that would bother Sagan, but his form at this time of year. Yet BMC Racing's tactics of setting a high-tempo ride up the 5.8 kilometre climb that averaged five per cent played right into his oversized hands.

In the end, it was the heat more than race condition that almost saw him unstuck. TV commentator Paul Sherwen's attempt at a post-stage interview wilted like much of the peloton.

"I'm very happy, but I have to eat first," was all Sagan could say.

And that was that.

He's never the easiest subject to question - most times, he'd rather not answer - and Friday's 40-degree-plus rolling furnace provided the perfect excuse for him to bail.

There's just one problem, however: he's now the race leader. And if his form this week is anything to go by, things could stay that way.

Red hot Sagan claims TDU stage and overall lead
World champion Peter Sagan has unleashed an outstanding ride to win stage four of the Santos Tour Down Under in brutal heat and take the overall lead.

Exactly why he's in such good nick, it could simply be that the triple world road champ is still getting better. Yes - better! He's still only 27, don't forget, albeit turning a year older on Australia Day. His early season fitness today may be close to his Spring Classics or Tour de France form three years ago.

It's a scary thought, but there could well be much more we haven't yet seen from the World of Peter Sagan.

On Saturday's queen stage that finishes atop Old Willunga Hill, he's indicated he'll be working for team-mate Jay McCarthy, third overall in 2017: "For Jay, it's a big race at home, and we know that tomorrow is going to be a much harder race than today."

But on the same stage last year, McCarthy finished 20 seconds adrift of stage- and race-winner Richie Porte of BMC Racing. From what we saw of the flyweight Tasmanian today, who appeared to hit the cruise (or should that be snooze?) button when the rest were at their limits, the form's there to do it all again.

With plenty of time bonuses remaining, it would seem premature for Sagan, currently nine seconds ahead of McCarthy and 14s in front of Porte, to sacrifice his chances when he could potentially do better himself. Forget that he finished 6'41 down on the Willunga stage last year; we all know he can climb when he wants to. If, like Nathan Haas did in 2017, he rides within himself, damage limitation is more than a possibility - it becomes a probability.

Downplaying any thought of finishing on the podium, Sagan said: "Tomorrow (Saturday) is going to be a different story!"

With four separate winners in as many days that may be... But whose name will occupy the headlines when the Fat Lady sings?