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Worlds roundtable: How did Sagan do it?

The finale of Sunday’s UCI Elite Men’s World Championships in Bergen, Norway contained plenty of heart-stopping drama. We watched Julian Alaphilippe zip away from the peloton on Salmon Hill and fly to likely victory, only to have the moto’s TV feed cut out and be replaced by a still shot of a Norwegian sailing ship and a sea of waving Norwegian flags. When the video finally came back, we saw a gruppo compatto peloton thunder to the line, where Peter Sagan took a historic third consecutive win. There was drama. There was salmon. There were oh so many Norwegian flags.

Let’s roundtable!

What was your reaction when the moto camera died with 3km to go?

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Go Alaphil—WHAT? NO! Where is the peloton? Why did the producers switch to clipper ship cam right now? Is this grainy pirated Sporza feed to blame? No! It’s the main feed, and the moto camera must be down! Cookson’s gone for two days and look at the chaos …

Spencer Powlsion @spino_powerlegs: At first I was confused, then I started to get a bit nervous, and finally I just pretended I was there at the finish in Bergen, eating Norwegian salmon and waiting for the peloton to appear around the final bend.

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: My empathy was with the technical crew. After six-hours-plus of flawless broadcast, something bad had had to have happened. Somewhere in Norway, a few technicians were living their worst nightmare. For the race? There was some unexpected tension in not knowing what was happening up the road. Old-school. When it came through with the bunch together, you knew Sagan had a chance.

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: There was a time when I was sure that the bootleg live streamers of international cycling were all part of some sort of twisted cabal determined to hide cycling’s best moments from its fans. And so when the feed cut out on Sunday I felt only resignation; the anti-cycling cabal wins again.

Which team missed the opportunity to win?

Fred: Belgium had Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet in perfect position heading into Salmon Hill, and I was sure that Gilbert was going to make it across to Alaphilippe and Moscon, but he either didn’t have the legs to go, or he figured the move would have come back. By my estimation, that threesome (plus perhaps Niki Terpstra) is gone if they crest the climb with the gap that Alaphilippe and Moscon eventually got. Instead, Phil Gil tried his hand with solo flyers on the flats, and that went nowhere. Considering the strength of their team, Belgium really missed out.

Spencer: The Italians had a lot of good cards to play, but none of them delivered in the finale. Alberto Bettiol led out the sprint perfectly, except it was perfect for Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan. Plus, to add insult to injury, Gianni Moscon was disqualified for a sticky bottle. Honorable mention: Apart from Philippe Gilbert’s short-lived attack, where were the Belgians?

Andy: Australia. They needed to make it harder with two and even three laps to go to get rid of a few more sprinters, or at least made it more difficult for them. Matthews also mentioned how he wasted energy chasing moves over Salmon Hill rather than waiting for it to come back. Italy played it right tactically, but Trentin didn’t quite have the legs to deliver the podium.

Caley: Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria should have been in the sprint for a medal but did far too much work. The rest of the major nations appeared to play the cards they had. There were really only three teams (Norway, Colombia, and Australia) with a reasonable chance of beating Sagan in that sprint, so all those doomed attacks from the Dutch and French and others had to at least be attempted.

What were the key components to Sagan’s victory?

Fred: In interviews with Sagan’s rivals, all of them lament their wasted energy with bad attacks on that final lap. Not Sagan. He kept his powder dry until that final lunge to the line. And perhaps the most important component was his well-timed bike throw. Go back and watch the slow motion replay, and it’s the bike throw that gives Sagan that extra oomph to win.

Spencer: The keys were what you didn’t see on replay. You didn’t see him make any unnecessary early attacks. You didn’t see him make an effort to pull back breakaways. He ghosted through the peloton until the very end. Pure patience. And of course, his super-fast sprint finish is pretty key as well.

Andy: Patience. Sagan was invisible until the final 800m. Even he admitted that he thought the race for gold was over with 5km to go. He astutely followed wheels, and kept his options alive. Positioning was also key going through those final corners. Sagan was perfectly placed on Kristoff’s wheel. Had he been behind Matthews, there would be no triple.

Caley:  Patience. Sagan hasn’t always raced with such a level head, but his patience on Sunday was astounding. After hiding away for hours, he made the decisive splits and didn’t hit the front until he could see the finish line.

The key moments come in the final 2km. The helicopter shot we got later shows a reduced bunch attacking and swarming like sparrows as riders hit out and then are reeled back. Watch Sagan. He’s the most efficient sparrow, following wheels and jumping from group to group so that he’s always in the one moving quickest.

What is your assessment of Sagan’s 2017 campaign?

Fred: The world championship obviously salvages his year, since the three-peat is such a historic accomplishment. But here’s my hot take: Sagan had a lousy year. Because it’s Sagan, we need to grade him on a curve, and this year lacked a monument and a green jersey. He was outsmarted at MSR, sloppy in Belgium, and the victim of overzealous officiating at le Tour. Here’s hoping for a better 2018.

Spencer: He saved his season with a historic third-consecutive world championship title. Apart from Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, his classics season was fruitless. The stage 3 win at the Tour was nice, but we all know what happened the next day. Sagan is so exceptional that even a 12-win season looks mediocre, so this rainbow jersey came right when he needed it.

Andy: A complete success. Sagan is one of the few riders who can alter any race he’s in. He missed a big monument win this year, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a protagonist in every race he started. The Tour de France was a balk on the race jury’s part, and Sagan came back to deliver sweet revenge when it counted. He’s now in a class of his own.

Caley: The only month in which he didn’t win a race since February was April, classics month, and that’s a pretty good reflection of his season as a whole. It was among his best but, without Flanders or Roubaix, it can’t be called the best.

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