Peter Sagan still has a ways to go to match cycling's legends, but his win in Paris-Roubaix is a big step forward.
FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan achieved a new status after winning Paris-Roubaix in the famous velodrome Sunday. Now, some are saying he is on his way to being one of the greatest cyclists of all time.
“He’s not that good like Eddy Merckx, who was good in the grand tours,” said teammate Marcus Burghardt, “but he’s not that far behind.”
After out-sprinting early breakaway Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale), the world champion added a Roubaix cobblestone to his trophy case, which already includes so many other prizes. The French monument stands above the others alongside his win in the Belgian monument Tour of Flanders and three world titles, from 2015 in Richmond to 2017 in Bergen.
“You just see the class of this rider,” Burghardt added. “This guy is so unique, and there aren’t many riders in the peloton who’ve achieved this already in this age or even in the past.
“I think he’s on level with really big riders — and he still has a great future ahead.”
The time was right for another big win with critics circling. In social media and print, it was noted before Paris-Roubaix that for such a star cyclist, Sagan’s palmarès is lacking in big monument wins.
Even with his second monument win, the 28-year-old Slovak is not the best in cycling based on numbers alone. Others have more monuments: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) — both with four — Damiano Cunego (Nippo Vini Fantini) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) — three.
Sagan has a long way to go to match those riders and likely an impossible road ahead to match cycling’s greatest of all time, Merckx. The Belgian won almost every race in the 1960s and 1970s, including five times the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. Amazingly, he won 19 of the five one-day monuments.
Cycling and the world have changed. Cyclists now specialize and peak once or maybe twice in a year for certain events whereas in Merckx’s time, and even through the 1990s, professionals raced from start to end at full power.
Chris Froome will spend weeks at altitude in remote locations just to be ready to target a single grand tour. He’s been successful, winning four times the Tour de France already.
Sagan cannot match Merckx, even if some say he could lose weight and challenge for the Tour de France overall victory. Although he has already won eight stages and five times the green points jersey.
His magnetism is not from the results alone, but his short and funny sound bites that fit perfectly in the modern 140-character age. Or his stunts that can be easily converted to GIFs or short video files and shared worldwide. How many other Paris-Roubaix winners mounted their bikes after the press conference and left the hall riding down a flight of stairs?
His new teammate Daniel Oss summed it up, “He’s a really cool guy, a really big champion, an amazing person.”
Specialized bikes, which rolled out a new sparkly gold Sagan line ahead of Flanders, and kitchen and bath sponsors Bora and Hansgrohe love the publicity that comes with his wins and near-misses.
“The Roubaix win he missed in the palmarès,” team general manager Ralph Denk said. “It was very important for him and for us as a team. We won Gent-Wevelgem but lost Flanders, the other races weren’t so good for us.
“If you win a race from a small break is nice. Also when you win in a bunch sprint like in Gent-Wevelgem. Always, his goal is win in a special style, but in the end, it doesn’t matter.”
Sagan himself said that he “prefers to make a show” after Milano-Sanremo and that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose.”