Peter the Great shows class and adaptability in Amgen win

Sagan was surgical, strong and explosive in Santa Rosa on Sunday; Horner says Liquigas rider could win five stages

SANTA ROSA, California (VN) — It’s a rare rider who can demonstrate nearly every aspect of bike racing in the final five miles, including unleashing a ferocious sprint for a stage win.

Peter Sagan is that bike rider — surgical, strong and explosive.

Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won a long uphill sprint into Santa Rosa after clawing back from a puncture just five miles from the finish and skirting a crash just in front of him that shaped the final group.

Coming back from the flat tire on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, Sagan tore through a corner amid team cars and traffic furniture before easily overtaking teammates Ted King and Alessandro Vanotti who had dropped back to help. Once they got in front of the 22-year-old Slovakian, he caught a breather and calmly hooked back up with the peloton. Sagan avoided carnage when Rabobank’s Michael Matthews crashed in front of him, and moved to the front behind leadout man Daniel Oss before launching a brutal sprint 600 meters from the line. It was clinical.

It’s remarkable to see, and yet no one was surprised. “Seeing Peter sprint, it’s a gift I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Exergy’s Fred Rodriguez, who finished third in the sprint. “There’s nothing he can’t do.”

RadioShack-Nissan’s Chris Horner, the defending race champion, went further.

“Today turned out exactly how I predicted it would [at the pre-race press conference]. Peter Sagan is always good. Always. These early stages are ideal for him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he won five stages at this race. I didn’t even know he’d flatted in the final 10km, but I’ve seen him drop his chain at Tirreno-Adriatico with 1km to go and then come back to front. I’ve seen him do even more impressive things than flatting with 10km to go and get back on. This kid, he’s got talent all over the place, and he has it all year long. These Amgen Tour of California stages are ideal for him, until Mount Baldy and the time trial.”

That’s high praise from the defending Amgen Tour champ, and there’s plenty more to go around for the Slovakian national champion.

“Peter Sagan likes to win,” said teammate Vincenzo Nibali. “He’s shown his class in one day classics or in single stages of grand tours, so we’ll see what level he can reach.”

“Like Vincenzo says, I’m a young guy. I still don’t know what my limits are,” Sagan said a day before the race start.

He was collected under pressure as he clawed his way back to the group and showed class once he did. Though the sprint was contested it was never in doubt; Oss commenced celebrating more than 100 meters from the line.

“With 10k to go, I knew there was plenty of time to get back,” Sagan said. ‘Thanks to the work of my teammates, it was a sprint finish with a reduced group.”

Sagan now leads the general classification and will start stage 2 in yellow, which may prove difficult to wrest from the young rider’s shoulders. The win marked his fourth in California.

Asked if he hopes to keep the leader’s jersey, Sagan says he doesn’t think he’ll be able to make it to L.A. in yellow.

“To hold on to the yellow jersey is going to be really tough,” Sagan said.

That might be the only thing at the 2012 Amgen Tour of California that Sagan can’t do.