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After being arguably one of the strongest riders at this summer’s Tour de France, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) was criticized post-Tour for not capturing a coveted stage win. Despite winning the green jersey yet again, cycling’s wunderkind was more than two years removed from his last grand tour stage win. On Monday, Sagan took a step toward silencing critics by storming to his first grand tour win since 2013 with victory in stage 3 of the Vuelta a España, the first bunch sprint of this year’s race.
“This is better than eighth,” Sagan said after his win. “It was a hard stage, little climbs, headwind. [Daniele] Bennati crashed, everyone was a little tired from pulling all day. I did well in the final … I had good legs, good sprint, I’m really happy with this victory.”
A stage victory at the Vuelta is not a prestigious as the Tour, but that didn’t deter the Slovak. “It’s different, we miss a lot of the pure sprinters here, but still it’s a good level with John Degenkolb, [Nacer] Bohanni, and others,” he added, naming the Giant-Alpecin and Cofidis riders who respectively took third and second behind him in stage 3.
“Every race is different, one time you are up, one time down, I’m always up, and that’s good.”
Despite his victory, the questions still came about his curse at the Tour, even though he captured multiple podium positions and a fourth-consecutive green jersey, putting him alongside cycling legend Sean Kelly.
“No, it’s funny also. All those seconds are almost impossible. You have to be one time first or third, no,” the Slovak road and time trial champion said after his victory.
“That’s sport, one time up or down, I’m stable … In the first five. I’m happy for the win, I was looking for it the whole Tour de France. Now it’s come.”
Sagan realized his win meant more for the team morale than ever before, after the high expectations of Alberto Contador’s Giro-Tour double were for naught in the high mountains of France.
The pressure was enormous for Tinkoff-Saxo in France and the pressure continued into Spain. A win right off the bat in Spain will ease tensions a little.
“The atmosphere will be better in the team now. This victory is good for the team. I’m happy to start like that after the rest in the Tour de France, finally one victory comes,” he added, although his teammate, Rafal Majka, did capture stage 11 of the Tour in July.
There is no question, the win is a huge lift off the 25-year-old phenom’s shoulders and bodes well for the world championships in a month’s time, considering he slumped through the Vuelta and looked flat at worlds last year.
“I come here most for preparation, to do some race kilometers, then I’ll see how it’s going,” Sagan said. “I know that it’s going good.”
A finish in Madrid seems unlikely for Sagan considering he already has one full grand tour in his legs. “We’ll see, it’s a long way off. I want to see how my preparation is going. I’m looking forward to the world championships.”
The course in Richmond suits the Slovakian’s ability and a rainbow jersey would quiet the skeptics and critics once and for all, including his most outspoken one, Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov.
Gregor Brown contributed to this report from Spain.