Sagan snaps up Oman in heavy-hitter battle

Slovak champion jumps away on final climb to win his first race of 2013

MUSCAT (VN) — Peter Sagan (Cannondale) showed the peloton his number on Tuesday when he stomped his rivals in the Tour of Oman and reminded them of his lethal finish kick.

After a daring descent, the 23-year-old Slovakian rocketed away on a final kick one kilometer from the finish in Al Bustan. Sagan left heavy hitters including Chris Froome (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in his wake.

“On the finish line,” Sagan said, “I pointed to my chest, I’m number one!”

He said it with a laugh, having fun and clearly relaxed with his capacities in such punchy, uphill finishes.

The bunch caught an early two-man escape after the first categorized climb with 24 kilometers to race in the tour’s second stage. The favorites positioned themselves. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) attacked over the next climb, with only 6.5 kilometers remaining. Sky chased, Nibali chased and Sagan kept watch. Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard) attacked through a roundabout with Nibali and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) following.

“It was a little difficult. After the decent, we had a small group ahead, but no one wanted to pull. Nibali attacked, another two went with him in the break,” Sagan said. “I pulled on the front going about 45 kph, then I attacked on the last [un-categorized] climb and arrived alone.”

Sagan caught and dropped the trio over the final dig at one kilometer out. He soloed down another fast descent to the line, closing the 146km stage with a number one next to his name.

Gallopin and Elmiger finished second and third, five seconds behind. Nibali was fourth, Froome sixth. The favorites group crossed the line 11 seconds behind Sagan.

The Slovak champion won three stages and the green jersey in his first Tour de France last year. This spring, he aims at the classics, which he’ll open on the white roads of Tuscany. After Oman, he races Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and then the big one-day classics: Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Amstel Gold Race.

“We’ll start with San Remo, which is good for my characteristics,” Sagan said.

Last year, he won the field sprint for fourth place behind the escape that included winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge). With it’s saw-blade profile, Tuesday’s finish in Monan was like a mini-San Remo.

“It’s hard to compare it,” Sagan said. “San Remo is a strange race to read.”

He added that Belgium’s Tour of Flanders was his favorite classic.

“It’s a nice classic, hard and for strong men,” he said with a grin. “I hope to win Flanders in the future.”

Oman comes first. Sagan leads by nine seconds over Gallopin with four more stages remaining.

The peloton faces 199km to Wadi Dayqah Dam southeast of Muscat. Sagan remembers the finish well; he won there last year.

“The overall will be hard to win,” Sagan said. “Maybe it’s another day for me, but after tomorrow it’s a hard day, maybe for riders like Contador or Nibali, not for me. I’m good on one-kilometer climbs, but not when it is five kilometers.”

Sagan explained he was just happy to win his first race of the year and the first for his newly re-badged Cannondale squad. The American bike company took over title sponsorship and part-ownership from long-time backer Liquigas over the winter.

“I’m very happy for this day, my first win of the season,” he said. “My condition is improving and now I’m more relaxed.”