Rider of the week
On paper, Peter Sagan didn’t come to the Tour of California with aspirations for the overall classification, as people were talking before the start of a fight between Sergio Henao, Robert Gesink, Ben Hermans and Joe Dombrowski for the glory. At best, he was hunting for a stage victory, but everyone knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task, as Mark Cavendish was the top contender in the flat days. Eventually, after finishing three times in a row second, the Slovak champion found the way to a victory, in Avila Beach, taking advantage of the fact that he knew the last 200 meters to perfection, unlike his opponents.
Later in the week, Santa Clarita saw him finishing again on the podium, before the redesigned course for the individual time trial had Sagan powering to a commanding win, which surprised people because of the huge gaps he created on the 10,6 km-long parcours. Still, the most impressive ride of the Tinkoff-Saxo leader came on Mount Baldy, a tough Hors Categorie ascent, where he was expected to make way for the climbers and lose minutes, thus getting out of contention.
But Sagan – who changed his cadence on the mountains this season – decided to have a defensive approach on Baldy and keep his energy once the attacks began to come, pacing himself all the time, helped by the fact he always had visual contact with some cyclists ahead. Inspite of the fast tempo and riders attacking all over the place, the Slovak kept his composure and came home just 47 seconds behind stage winner Julian Alaphilippe, losing the yellow jersey for just two seconds, with one day remaining until the end of the race.
Then, on Sunday, in what was one of the most thrilling finales a stage race has seen in the past seasons, a finale truly worthy of a big budged Hollywood movie, Peter Sagan finished third at Pasadena for just 1/100 of a second in front of Tyler Farrar, but only after the organizers checked the photo-finish, prolonging his and Julian Alaphilippe’s agony. By winning the US race (for a mere three seconds) and showing he’s more than just a sprinter/Classics-type of rider, the 25-year-old relaunched his season, discovered a new dimension of himself and now has every reason to look with optimism towards the Tour de France, where he can be once again of the top protagonists.