Tour de France
What stages will Peter Sagan win this Tour de...

Could Sagan win 11 Tour stages this year?

Could Peter Sagan match Eddy Merckx's record of most stage wins in a single Tour de France? Eleven stages look ripe with opportunity.

If through some stroke of brilliant form or unwavering luck Peter Sagan rides to his utmost abilities in every stage of the Tour de France, he could walk away with no less than 11 wins in 21 stages.

Incredible, right? And unlikely, of course. It would be a run unmatched in history. It would depend on Sagan finding bunch sprint speed he hasn’t shown in a few years. Yet it is feasible that a flying Sagan could come close to matching the record for most stage wins in a single Tour, held jointly by Eddy Merckx and Charles Pelissier at eight. This year’s Tour de France takes in a somewhat unique, figure-eight shaped route that spreads out its big mountain days and fills the gaps with just the sort of rolling and flat stages Sagan loves.

There are seven flat stages on offer, each likely to see a bunch sprint. That’s stages 2, 4, 6, 7, 1011, and 21. These stages have few or no categorized climbs and relatively straightforward finales. True bunch sprinters like Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) and, if he’s truly back on form, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) are the favorites here. But one can never rule Sagan out. He’s taken big bunch finishes in the past and he will likely do so again.

The sprint field looks to be tilted slightly more in Sagan’s favor than in recent years. There’s a question mark over Cavendish’s form. Kristoff arrives without some of his usual sprint train. André Greipel’s missed his top speed much this season, and John Degenkolb’s best legs are still to be seen. The French duo of Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni will put up a fight.

But there are more options for the versatile Sagan. Stages 3, 14, 16, and 19 are all a bit lumpier, featuring categorized climbs and potentially tricky finishes. Stage 3 to Longwy has a little category 3 kicker at the end, just long enough to shed Kittel and Cav but perhaps not long enough to let the true climbers shine. Stage 14 to Rodez has two category 3 climbs and few truly flat roads. Most sprinters will be dispatched. Sagan, though, performed well here before; in 2015 he was second in Rodez to Greg Van Avermaet.

Stage 19 has three categorized climbs and is a likely breakaway day, but the day’s sprint points sit after the first two climbs. Sagan, in pursuit of green, has jumped into such breaks before.

In 1974, the last time a rider hit eight wins in a single Tour, Eddy Merckx opened with a victory in the prologue and proceeded to win sprint stages (to Chalons sur Marne, stage 7), days in the mountains (to Gaillard, stage 9, and Aix les Bains, stage 10), and even another time trial, stage 19b in Bordeaux. Of course, he also won the entire Tour that year.

Sagan can’t match that. He’s unlikely to factor in the opening time trial, as it’s just a bit too long. He certainly won’t in the 23km TT in Marseille, stage 20. But the Tour’s distinctive route and Sagan’s unique set of skills — his potential to factor in any bunch sprint, plus many of the days the sprinters will find too difficult — sets him up for what could be a historic run.

If form and luck play along, of course.