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LONGWY, France (VN) — You knew Peter Sagan was strong coming into the 2017 Tour de France when he passed a tram in the rain in the opening time trial Saturday in Düsseldorf.
That was merely the opening act. On Monday, the Sagan Show began in earnest.
Cycling’s biggest star proved yet again he’s hard to beat on the bike, and hard to top off of it. After misfiring in Sunday’s bunch sprint, Sagan got it right in Monday’s punchy finale. Even a pedal slip with about 200m to go couldn’t stop him.
“I made a mistake but I could still win,” Sagan shrugged. “Matthews made a good sprint, and he almost caught me.”
Cycling’s most bankable star didn’t disappoint, and lived up to expectations. The steep, uphill finale was ideal for Sagan, and after making it look easy, he slipped a pair of motor-cross goggles around his neck. Why? Because he can (and it made his sponsor happy as well).
“Pressure?” Sagan laughed. “What is pressure?”
Pressure is something the media and his rivals pile on Sagan every time he races. So far, it ricochets off him as if he we were a bulletproof vest. He simply just shrugs his shoulders, and takes life as it comes. So far in his cycling career, things have come pretty easy.
“Maybe these stripes give me special motivation,” Sagan said as he looked down at his rainbow jersey. “I am trying to make the cycling also a little bit of fun, not always serious. Maybe that is the best way to find some motivation.”
[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Peter Sagan”]”Maybe these stripes give me special motivation. … I am trying to make the cycling also a little bit of fun, not always serious”[/pullquote]
What’s fun for the two-time world champion is hell for his rivals. Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who’s been knocking heads against the Slovakian most of his career, was pipped again. Daniel Martin (Quick-Step) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) also tried, but it’s hard to beat back the Sagan surge when it hits full steam.
“Michael and I are good friends. We have dinner sometimes in Monaco,” Sagan said. “His wife is also Slovakian, and sometimes our wives drink coffee together — wait! I do not know why we are talking about our wives?”
The victory is Sagan’s eighth stage win since his Tour debut in 2012, and bodes well for this season’s haul. With an atypical Tour course packed with interesting stages, Bora-Hansgrohe is hoping Sagan ends up on the winner’s podium a few more times.
“He comes to the Tour is good condition, as good as last year,” said Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Patxi Vila. “We have three or four stages that we will be targeting. But you know Peter can win in many types of stages.”
Sagan’s first win also puts him within striking distance of what would be a sixth straight and record-tying green jersey. Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step), winner of Sunday’s stage, admitted that “Sagan will have to crash out or get ill for me to have a chance of winning the green jersey.”
When queried about what matching Erik Zabel’s would mean, Sagan shrugged his shoulders yet again.
“What changes in the world if I win the green jersey? Nothing,” he said. “There are more important things in the life.”
That’s the Sagan Way.