EDMONTON, Alberta (VN) — Two of his ubiquitous cardboard faces hung from the second floor railing inside City Hall. His fellow riders were tabbing him as a can’t-be-beat favorite. And so Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was asked if he could outrun a bear.
“Yes … I think,” said the 23-year-old Slovak and the hottest man on two wheels, to a roar of laughter.
And so it was at Monday’s introduction for the inaugural Tour of Alberta, the six-day UCI America Tour 2.1 race whose mostly flat course could see Sagan not only win intermediate sprint points and sprint finishes but likely the general classification leader’s jersey, too.
Pressure for most. For Sagan?
“Not so much,” he deadpanned, also to laughter. “It’s a good parcours for me. A very good parcours. We will see day by day, and after tomorrow, the prologue, we will see if we can control the race.”
Coming off four stage wins at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado last month, Sagan does have two disadvantages — one definite and one possible — heading into Alberta that do not involve bears. Illness and injury have left him only five healthy teammates for the race, two down from the norm. Winds, which blow unfettered across Alberta’s wide-open rural farmlands, also hold a wild card.
And therein lie slivers of hope for the rest of the field, however slim.
“His team is weaker, and with two guys less he’ll come into a lot of sprints solo,” said reigning U.S. champion Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly-Kenda). “Now one thing that Sagan has going for him, is that he’s versatile. In races like Colorado, he had less suffering than most sprinters because he can climb.
“Here, though, it’s going to be a lot more balanced. The rest of the sprinters will have the opportunity to come into the sprints fresh. It’s all going to be about changing the game a little bit. But the wind could change everything.”
Rodriguez tried to mix it up in the final Pro Challenge stage in Denver by coming around Sagan’s sprint train from a long way out. He finished 11th.
“I used my bullet too early,” he said. “But shaking it up, that’s what you have to do. You have to not follow the routine. You have to get on his wheel, be in the perfect position and then go.”
The event begins Tuesday night with a 7.3-kilometer time trial down, up and through the heart of city beginning at 6 p.m. MT. The 11-turn course, although just the table-setter, could prove pivotal on a course that, on paper, looks to set up bunch sprint finishes on every stage.
“I think a lot of this race could be decided tomorrow,” said Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge). “If you get like 10 seconds in the prologue you can make the GC.”
If it’s Sagan in yellow, a bear might be the only thing that can stop him.