Australia (VN) — Two-time reigning world champion Peter Sagan is the protagonist even when he doesn’t want to be.
Going into Sunday’s season opener in a one-hour criterium to rev up the motors for the Santos Tour Down Under, the 26-year-old Slovakian decided he would ride for Bora—Hansgrohe teammate Sam Bennett (IRL) rather than take the sprint himself. Aussie crit champ Caleb Ewan (Orica—Scott) took the win, but no one was more surprised than Sagan’s Irish teammate.
“Peter Sagan is leading me out?! I was shaking,” Bennett said at the line. “There was a big fight for his wheel. I was nervous. Peter was telling me to relax but it was nerve-wracking.”
With Sagan content to try to let his teammate win in his debut in his new Bora colors, the door was open for Ewan to drive home the victory.
Sagan didn’t seem too worried. The 50.6km loop course gave 131 starters a chance to blow out the cobwebs after a long winter. Sagan was calmly chomping down an energy bar post-race when journalists asked him about the team’s plan.
“It was good, but not super-good. We did a good job, but not enough for the win,” Sagan said. “We wanted to win with Sam Bennett, but he was second. I will recover, and we will see for the Tour Down Under.”
- 1. Caleb EWAN, ORICA-SCOTT, in 1:03:41
- 2. Sam BENNETT, BORA-HANSGROHE, at :00
- 3. Peter SAGAN, BORA-HANSGROHE, at :00
- 4. Niccolo BONIFAZIO, BAHRAIN-MERIDA, at :00
- 5. Edward THEUNS, TREK-SEGAFREDO, at :00
- 6. Mark RENSHAW, DIMENSION DATA, at :00
- 7. Sean DE BIE, LOTTO SOUDAL, at :00
- 8. Baptiste PLANCKAERT, KATUSHA-ALPECIN, at :00
- 9. Patrick BEVIN, CANNONDALE-DRAPAC, at :00
- 10. Jasha SUTTERLIN, MOVISTAR, at :00
While Sagan and Bennett couldn’t quite get their lead-out firing, Ewan and new pilot Roger Kluge delivered perfectly. Orica signed the veteran German track star and former IAM Cycling rider to serve as Ewan’s main leadout man this season, and Sunday’s criterium was a perfect practice run for what’s to come.
“I’m really happy it started off well with Roger,” said the 22-year-old Ewan. “It was the first race I have raced with him and he dropped me off perfectly, right at the front, and that was the first time I had to touch the wind … All I had to do was follow him. He sat behind me with a few laps to go to give me a smooth ride and came around me with a lap to go.”
The peloton goes into slumber mode Monday and clicks back into gear Tuesday for the first stage of the six-day Tour Down Under. The sprinters will have shots in stages 1, 4 and 6. Bennett is hoping to get another chance at a mass gallop. After all, it’s not every day that Sagan is leading you out.
“I didn’t want to take away an opportunity for Peter, because it is the first race of the season with the new team,” Bennett said. “I want to say thanks to the guys and I hope I can pay them back with a win this week.a