Did you watch Peter Sagan power away from the peloton on Monday, navigate the rainy roads, reel in a breakaway, and then win his second straight stage at the Tour de Suisse? If you did, you might be wondering: Is there anything Sagan can’t do?
Well, there is: Win the Tour de France.
Sagan is Superman on the bike, capable of climbing bergs in a single bound, popping wheelies like Evel Knievel, and even pulling off a Grease dance number. A few years ago at a pre-Tour press conference, Sagan just shook his head in exasperation when a journalist asked him if he could ever win the Tour de France. “Same question every year. Think of a better question,” he replied.
Well, it is a pretty damn good question, and one that will inevitably be asked again. Many, including Sean Kelly and his former director Roberto Amadio, think he could develop into a stage racer if he shed some weight and tweaked his training. Pundits will tell you his DNA is not wired for the big Alpine climbs, but it’s happened before. Kelly and Laurent Jalabert — two classics specialists who were similar to Sagan in their respective eras — both won the Vuelta a España, proving that a grand tour victory is feasible for the peloton’s all-rounders.
Bradley Wiggins provides a comparable model. Wiggo shed 8kg (17.6 pounds), remolded his body, and used his time trial gifts to win the 2012 Tour. It also took the right course, the right team, and the right circumstances for the Wiggins magic to happen.
Could that happen for Sagan? I don’t see why not. Here’s my scenario for Sagan becoming a Tour champ.
It’s 2019. Believing that his hair is the source of his strength, Sagan has refused a haircut since the 2015 world championships, and he sports hip-length dreadlocks. He’s cycling’s highest-paid rider, earning $10 million per season on a team backed by the same Chinese company that bought the ASO-owned-and-operated WorldTour.
Sagan, now 29, has won seven green jerseys in a row, breaking Erik Zabel’s record of six. He’s rattled off two Flanders-Roubaix doubles, won Milano-Sanremo once, added two more world titles, and won every stage in the past three editions of the Tour of California. But he wants more.
Going into the 2019 season, Sagan gives up beer and loses 4kg (8.8 pounds). He wins Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombardia to become the first man to sweep the monuments.
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The Tour, meanwhile, delivers a an easy course custom-built for Julian Alaphilippe, who the French hope becomes their first winner since the Badger in 1985 (yep, in my scenario the French still haven’t won).
They pack the front end of the race with crosswinds, cobblestones, short uphill finales, but no long climbs. Contador is retired, Fabio Aru did the Giro d’Italia, and Chris Froome is injured. Nairo Quintana is going for his third straight yellow jersey.
Quintana crashes, Alaphilippe takes big gains in the team time trial, and Sagan snags the green jersey. But then, on the first mountain stage in the Pyrénées, Sagan makes his push for yellow. He attacks solo, and the pack assumes he’s going for intermediate sprints. Fans cheer him on: Look at Sagan go! What a beast! But Sagan keeps climbing and climbing and climbing. Alaphilippe and Quintana panic. They chase, but Sagan snags six minutes.
Everyone expects him to crack in the next mountain stages. Quintana drops him, but Sagan uses his deft descending skills to limit the losses. In a long, 55km time trial near Gap, Alaphilippe takes back a minute, but it’s not enough.
A few days later, Quintana attacks up Alpe d’Huez, taking the yellow jersey by 45 seconds, but Sagan delivers the miracle in the next day’s flat time trial to reclaim yellow.
Sagan rides onto the Champs-Élysées as the winner of the 2019 Tour de France, popping a wheelie as he crosses the line, of course.
On the podium, Sagan pinches the bum French first lady Carla Bruni, announces he will retire from racing and star in the next Avengers movie as “The Hulk.” After all, it’s Peter Sagan’s world, we’re just living in it.