TELLURIDE, Colo. (VN) — The North American peloton let out a collective sigh over the weekend.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will race the USA Pro Challenge in a few weeks’ time, meaning Peter Sagan is a quick favorite to win stages in Colorado, and not only the flatter ones, with sprint finishes, but the lumpy days as well.
Team rider Ted King and team officials recently confirmed that Sagan, who won the points classification at this year’s Tour de France, in addition to a stage, will line up at the third running of the race, which shoves off in Aspen on August 19.
The “Terminator” has been on a spree all season, picking up from a wildly successful 2012 campaign. This season alone, he has 18 finishes in either first or second places, including stages at the Tour de France, Amgen Tour of California (in addition to the points classification), Tirreno-Adriatico, and Ghent-Wevelgem. He finished second at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) to Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and was runner up at Milano-Sanremo as well.
Historically, the Slovakian has decimated fields when he comes to North America. He’s won 10 stages at the Amgen Tour, and the points classification each of the four times he’s contested it. Sagan comes off a Tour most riders would have been thrilled with, though there was a sense he wanted more from the 100th lap around France. He won one stage this year, down from three a year before, though the green jersey was firmly in his hands for most of the race.
A look at the parcours in the Centennial State reveals a race, of course, at high altitude, but one that isn’t particularly harsh, from a climbing perspective. The seven-stage race, which starts on August 19 in Aspen, Colorado, sees only one uphill finish — in a brief, punchy climb to Beaver Creek — and an uphill time trial in Vail.
The first stage suits a rider like Sagan (if there is another rider like Sagan). The peloton will cover the Aspen/Snowmass circuit, 22 miles in length, with 3,000 feet of climbing, three times, for a short, 66-mile day. Sure, it’s difficult, but the opener certainly suits Sagan, who won a ludicrously difficult stage at Tirreno-Adriatico in March that saw him escape with Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).
Stage 2 is a mountainous affair from Aspen to Breckenridge, featuring two major passes, in Independence and Hoosier. The finale sees the field tackle the 15-percent Moonstone Road in Breckenridge, before a downhill finish. If Sagan’s in the bunch, the ending could be all-too-familiar.
The following stage into Steamboat offers little to sort the order out, as the eastern ascent of Rabbit Ears Pass is long and difficult, but not particularly steep, and is followed by a long, downhill run into Steamboat. Two years ago, the race ended in a massive field sprint here with a huge crowd, won by Cannondale’s Elia Viviani. That stage didn’t feature Rabbit Ears Pass, but it could easily be another Cannondale rider this time around.
The queen stage, from Steamboat to Beaver Creek, should see the general classification men come to the front up the sharp Bachelor Gulch climb, and shouldn’t see a large group come toward the finish together, but rather ones and twos. Sagan’s chances here will be thin, though if he can arrive to the start of the finish climb in Avon with the leaders, he could all but secure the points jersey. The uphill Vail time trial offers little chance, but there are two more days that could prove Sagan-friendly: stage 6 into Fort Collins, with a 19-mile climb up to Estes Park and five punchy ramps leading to the finale, and the stage 7 Denver circuit race, on the race’s final day.
Of course, the riders will make the Colorado race, but as Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) said, the race isn’t steep enough for a pure climber to win, making Sagan-friendly finishes likely, if not probable.
Is it outrageous to expect the Cannondale rider to win three or more stages at the Pro Challenge? No.
And maybe that’s what’s outrageous.