DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Peter Sagan wasn’t long without the rainbow jersey. After a year in the world champion’s kit, he started Sunday’s road race with his Slovakian national jersey — but less than six hours later, he was back in the stripes.
The Slovak sensation becomes the first rider since Paolo Bettini to repeat as world champion, joining five other riders who have pulled off one of cycling’s most elusive feats.
“I am very surprised to win,” Sagan said. “You never know what is going to happen in a sprint. There were many sprinters. Which wheel are you going to follow? It is always like a lottery. I had nothing to lose today. It is unbelievable.”
Sagan’s win just didn’t happen by accident, but perhaps as he hinted, it was also meant to be. A lot of factors had to line up in his favor. He didn’t puncture or crash or suffer in the heat. He followed the right moves, saved his strength, and found an opening in a chaotic bunch sprint, beating top sprinter Mark Cavendish and classics legend Tom Boonen. Run the same sprint over 10 times, and maybe Sagan just comes up spades once.
The stars aligned for Sagan on Sunday. We’ve broken down the five keys to Sagan’s unlikely double:
No. 1: Following the moves
The first key was Sagan and Slovakian teammate Michal Kolar sneaking into the front group when the bunch split under buffeting winds with pressure from the Belgians. If he misses that move, he doesn’t win the race.
“I was the last guy to enter the break behind the Belgian guys, and that was the first victory of the day,” Sagan said. “I thought the group might come back together, but the Belgians and the Italians worked really hard, and I said, OK, we will make a sprint.”
No. 2: Don’t sweat it
In the weeks before Doha, riders were trying to figure out how to deal with the oppressive heat of Qatar. Some, like Alexander Kristoff of Norway, came here nearly three weeks ago to acclimated. Others, such as Irish time trialist Ryan Mullen, rode their trainers inside a sauna. Sagan? He showed up in Doha three days before the race. The lesson? Don’t overthink it. Just race.
“When I came here, for the first day, I was sleeping all day because I traveled overnight,” he said. “Then one day I did three hours and already I was, ‘oh no, it’s too much.’ Then the next day I did just one hour because today was the big day.”
No. 3: Reading the race
The third key was choosing the right moment. Just like last year in Richmond, when he attacked in the closing kilometers, Sagan stayed hidden away in the front group after he made the selection. With the Belgians and Italians doing the heavy lifting to make the move stick, Sagan wasn’t visible until he bolted down the right side of the road in the final 300m of the race.
“I told myself it would be stupid to attack, so I said to myself, I save myself for one card and sprint,” he said. “I have nothing to lose, and yeah, it just happens. I was thinking, ‘Stay cool, stay on the wheel, you don’t have to work.’ I have one shot, so let’s make it a good one.”
No. 4: Have some luck
Sagan said before the worlds he had nothing to lose. With rival teams forced to carry the burden of the race, Sagan could float in the peloton, mark wheels, and bide his time. Luck was also a factor, and he was the first to admit it.
“I started to sprint on the right side, and I was very lucky that they did not close me down on the right. It was a lot of good luck, maybe destiny,” Sagan said. “It doesn’t happen every day that I can win a sprint like this.”
No. 5: Destiny’s child
Sagan seems to be a mystic, or at least believe there are mystical powers titled in his favor.
“So many things have to come together to win the world championship once, so do it two times in a row, maybe it is destiny,” he said. “You must have good shape. You must have luck. The course has to be right. If there was a mountain in Qatar, I would not be a world champion. I cannot believe it that I won again. It is something strange. It is very strange, but it just happened.”