Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) capped a highly successful grand-tour debut with victory in Sunday’s 98km finale to close out the 2011 Vuelta a España with a hat-trick win.
Sagan burst down the middle of the road in the final 150 meters to blow past a fading Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) to round out a superb Vuelta that also included two wins in the first half of the race.
“I was boxed in a bit and had to restart my sprint, but the team did a great job protecting me today. I was solely focused on winning today,” Sagan said. “This has been a great Vuelta for me. The goal was to win one stage and make it to Madrid, so to win three, and on the final day, it’s a great satisfaction.”
Sagan has surpassed expectations during what’s been a season of confirmation for the 21-year-old.
Sunday’s win was his 14th on the year, a haul that included stage wins at the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse as well as wins and overall victories at the Giro di Sardegna back in February and the Tour of Poland just days ahead of the start of the Vuelta.
Sagan proved how competitive he is by complaining to journalists that he didn’t win the points jersey as well. Sagan finished 22 points behind winner Bauke Mollema (Rabobank).
“I am frustrated by what happened in stage 16 (when riders were confused by a roundabout at 300 meters to go),” he said. “I was forced to brake and stop my sprint, which might have cost me a chance to win the points jersey.”
Sagan’s next major challenge will be the world championship road race at Copenhagen on September 25 on a course that’s perfectly suited to his characteristics.
The big question is whether he will have the legs to race the longer world’s distance of more than 250km, but Sagan didn’t want to dwell too long on the prospect of winning the rainbow jersey.
“I don’t want to think too much about the worlds. It’s a hard race to plan and you need a bit of luck,” he said. “I will have the Velits brothers with me and I think they will be helping me. Right now, I am happy with how things are going. I never expected to win so many races at the beginning of the season.”
Sagan has proved to be quite versatile, capable of winning in bunch sprints, as he did at the Vuelta, as well as challenging out of breakaways and getting over mountains to fight for the flowers.
He won three of four bunch sprints he contested at the Vuelta. The roundabout mistake cost him a shot in Haro in stage 16 while Marcel Kittel, another young sprinter on the rise, bested him to the line in Talavera de la Reina.
“I want to keep developing as a sprinter,” he said. “Next year I’d like to race the Tour de France. I know it will be different from the Vuelta, but it will be ideal preparation for the Olympic Games.”