METZ, France (VN) — the insatiable Peter Sagan took his third stage at his maiden Tour de France on Wednesday with a staggering display of tactical moxie and finishing speed.
Yes, Sagan is on fire in 2012, clocking wins in California, France and Switzerland, but it’s worth noting that the 22-year-old prodigy isn’t even the leader on his own Liquigas-Cannondale team — at least not yet.
In his post-race press conference, Sagan said he will look toward Vincenzo Nibali once the race tilts skyward on Saturday. He also said he was not the team leader in any fashion.
“It’s Nibali. He’s here for the overall classification. But the fact that I won stages, it’s very important for the team because we already have something in our pockets,” Sagan said, noting the wins took some pressure off Nibali. “I will be looking at him, and be happy if he can do something great in the general classification.”
Nibali is a dark-horse GC contender at the Tour. This year, he’s taken second at the Tour of Oman, won Tirreno-Adriatico and recorded second- and third-place finishes at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Milan-San Remo, respectively.
A heavy crash with about 25km to go in stage 6 slew the GC hopes of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and dented those of Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) while Nibali and other hopefuls stayed upright.
Sagan’s three wins at the Tour — two on uphill finishes and Friday’s in the flat sprint — have been surgical. On stage 1, he jumped Fabian Cancellara’s wheel, let the big Swiss rider tow him to the line and nipped him in a sprint, having twice ignored the maillot jaune’s request to pull through.
Stage 3 saw Sagan position himself well up the final hill — about a 750-meter rise into the finish — and attack viciously coming out of a corner, allotting himself enough time to do his running-man victory celebration.
Into Metz, he was able to catch Andre Greipel’s wheel and come around the Lotto-Belisol man, who’s won two stages at the 2012 Tour. On Friday, Sagan showed he can beat the world’s best in drag races, too.
“It’s a surprise, [even] for myself,” he said afterward. “I didn’t expect to win today.”
Sagan has produced already in France, but the team hasn’t wholly committed to him here. On Friday, it was Matt Goss’ Orica-GreenEdge team that drilled the pace into Metz, ending the GC hopes of some riders.
“What happened during this first week, you can see that both of us, we had some teammates around us. It was not everybody with me, or everybody with Vincenzo,” he said.
“Yesterday, I was unlucky. Today, I was lucky. I woke up and said, ‘Today, I feel very good.'”
And some days it’s just as important to be lucky as to feel good — especially at the Tour, which brings a special kind of pressure to bear upon its riders.
“Everybody is so nervous, all the way through. I think that will change with the mountains. I hope so,” he said. “Everybody wants to win a stage. Everybody’s very nervous. And of course that causes crashes.”