Peter Sagan made it look easy Tuesday to win a rainy, challenging stage at the Tour de Suisse for his third victory in four days.
The win was good for young Sagan’s 11th on the 2012 season, moving him within one of André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) for the most so far this year among the elite pros.
Just how far can Sagan go? That seems to be an answer that no one knows.
Sagan’s Liquigas-Cannondale team has been nurturing its talent, keeping him out of the Tour de France last year because team brass didn’t want to put too much pressure on his young shoulders.
Liquigas boss Roberto Amadio told VeloNews earlier this year that the sky’s the limit for Sagan’s future.
“The only thing he cannot do now with the best in the world is climb big, long mountains,” Amadio said. “He is still young. His body is still developing. He was very impressive this year in the classics. Now we see what he can do at the Tour.”
With the Tour up next, Sagan’s 2012 season is already shaping up to be even more impressive than his 15-win 2011 campaign that included the his first WorldTour overall, at the Tour of Poland, and three stages in his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España.
Sagan’s lone hiccup last year was a somewhat flat performance at the road worlds, where he could only muster 12th behind Mark Cavendish’s superb victory.
So far through 2012, Sagan has been impeccable. He just missed a major win at the spring classics, with second at Ghent-Wevelgem, third at Amstel Gold Race, fourth at Milan-San Remo and fifth at the Tour of Flanders.
Sagan has been unbeatable of late, however, winning five stages at the Tour of California and three through four days of racing so far in Switzerland, a haul that includes beating back Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) in the opening prologue.
Those numbers are downright Merckxian, winning eight of the past 12 days of racing at the past two races he’s started.
Those kinds of results have many calling Sagan the “next Merckx,” a designation that has turned into an unbearable weight for a number of riders over the past few decades.
Sagan, meanwhile, seems immune to pressure and stoically goes about his job.
On Tuesday, Sagan only had Liquigas teammate Moreno Moser to help position him for the final sprint against a reduced bunch that still included some impressive horsepower, with the likes of Oscar Freire (Katusha), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) and J.J. Rojas (Movistar) choking on his rooster tail.
“Moreno did a great job for me. This victory is thanks to him,” said Sagan, who clearly prefers to let his legs do the talking. “I am very satisfied with the race so far. It was dangerous today, with wet roads, but to win again was important. It was not so easy.”
Sagan, however, makes it look easy. With his strong climbing legs, Sagan is like Freire in his best years, able to get up and over hard climbs and still have the explosiveness to contest the bunch sprints.
And so far this year, no one – except an equally impressive Bradley Wiggins — has come close to Sagan in terms of quality wins.
Wiggins’ eight victories have all come in time trials and overall classifications — minus stage 1 at the Tour de Romandie — during his remarkable run that includes victories at Paris-Nice, Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné, which he won for the second year in a row on Sunday.
While taking nothing away from Greipel, each of his sprint victories have come at non-WorldTour events, minus three wins to open the season at Tour Down Under. Greipel’s only WorldTour stage race since then was Tirreno-Adriatico, when he didn’t win a stage, but both Sagan and archrival Cavendish (Sky) did.
Greipel has also been on an equally impressive run, winning six races in 10 starts, with his latest coming at the ProRace Berlin on Sunday.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) ranks third in the victory column, with all of his wins coming during his phenomenal spring classics run. After winning Paris-Roubaix, Boonen didn’t race until the mid-May Amgen Tour of California and is now at the Tour de Suisse, but will not race the Tour to prepare exclusively for the Olympic Games.
With Sagan hogging nearly all the victories, it’s hard for Boonen or anyone else to hope of adding to their haul.
Sagan’s presence in the Tour should make the already intense sprint stages even that much more interesting.
Most 2012 wins (through June 12)
André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 12
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 11
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 9
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 8
Mark Cavendish (Sky) 7
Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) 7
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 6
Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) 6
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 5
Francesco Chicchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 5
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) 5
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 5