Most days, it’s hard to bet against Peter Sagan in the Velo office pool. Sagan’s abilities over a spectrum of bike races and courses grow more legendary by the season.
His victories are as varied as the roads of Europe. The Cannondale star won Gent-Wevelgem on a late solo move, fooling a select front group that assumed he was waiting for a sprint — never mind the fact that he likely would have won the sprint anyway. He won Brabantse Pijl, abusing Philippe Gilbert in the process. Sagan also finished second at Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders, as well as second at E3-Harelbeke and Strade Bianche. He finished sixth at this year’s world road championships, and defended his green jersey at the Tour de France, where he also won a stage.
In stage races, he’s an absolute terror for sprinters and rouleurs and even, sometimes, climbers — recall the rain-soaked, sharktoothed stage he won this year at Tirreno-Adriatico, ahead of Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodríguez, where Chris Horner finished sixth, and Chris Froome finished 15th.
Sagan won five points classifications this season — in Alberta, California, Colorado, Switzerland, and, of course, France. In those races, he won 11 individual stages. At other races, he took six additional stages. Over the Colorado roads, he won four. It’s easy to forget that Sagan turned 23 in January.
By this point, much has been made of Sagan’s physiological pedigree. Of course, it bears repeating. He lacks the absolute sprint of Cavendish or Kittel, but is nearly as fast, and every bit as tactical. He can drop the sprinters on climbs near the finish, so he comes to the line a heavy favorite. Riders often feel good for even coming close to beating him.
One of his most demonstrative efforts came in a little known race this spring, in the bitter cold. He won stage 1 of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde by attacking a group on a climb before the finish, surging ahead and taking Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) out of the running. The fluidity with which he moved through the race was striking. Cav took notice.
“That guy’s pretty unbeatable right now,” Cavendish said. “He’s a once-in-a-generation rider, for sure. He is super, super good. He’s making us all look like juniors.”
On a cold day in Zottegem, Belgium, this spring, Sagan said, “When I became professional, my ambition was to be the best. On the climbs, on the sprints, to be a protagonist everywhere. Now we see that working … the goal is to take the most wins as possible. And at the most important races, of course.”
The “most important” races, however, seem to be whichever one Sagan finds himself in at any given time. Sagan led pro cycling in 2013 with 22 victories.
“It’s really simple,” he said. “To be an all-rounder, you have to be complete everywhere, in every aspect.”
Truer words, about bike racing at least, were never spoken.
Editor’s Note: Read about all of our award winners in the December 2013 issue of Velo, out now.