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Fairly or unfairly, he’s become known for his near misses but Peter Sagan proved he is one of the sport’s most worthy champions when he scooped the rainbow jersey in Richmond, Virginia, on Sunday. The Slovakian rider rode a brilliant final lap, attacking at the top of the final climb to get a gap, hurtling down the descent and then having enough left to hold off the chasing bunch to the line.
He soloed in three seconds ahead of silver medallist Michael Matthews (Australia) and the bronze medallist Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania), with Alexander Kristoff (Norway), Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and Simon Gerrans (Australia) filling the top six.
“I think it is the biggest victory,” a surprisingly relaxed Sagan said afterwards. “I am very happy. I did a lot of sacrifices this last three weeks after the Vuelta. It’s unbelievable for me.”
Apparently referring to the unrest in Europe and elsewhere, he said that he hoped the unifying nature of sport could help build bridges.
“I want also to say I am very happy for this. I was finding motivation in the world,” he stated. “I think it is big problem with Europe and all this stuff that is happening. I want to just say this was very big motivation for me.
“The problems in the world we have to change. I think that in the next years it can all be different. I think this competition and all the sport is very nice for the people. And we are motivation for the people.”
With the exception of the final half lap, Sagan was essentially anonymous throughout the race. Known as a rider who has been impulsive in the past, he played a perfect waiting game.
He allowed other key riders to waste energy in the closing laps, then hit them when it counted. The Slovakian followed a move by Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) on the 23rd Street climb, and then jumped away with two and a half kilometres left.
He then drilled it from there to the finish, taking gold.
“The race was very strange. Today I was just waiting, waiting. I was hoping for the last cobble stone climb. From there I was just full gas until the finish.
“If the group had taken me [back], I would be very tired for the sprint. I did just one attack and I think it was the right one.”
He hoped that this proves a point. “I saw also a lot of comments from people that I am not good for the long races like this. Now I have this jersey and I’ll hold it for the next year.”
How it played out:
The Elite men’s race at the world road race championships was 259.2 kilometres in length and would cover the Richmond circuit 16 times in all.
Very early on five riders slipped clear, with New Zeland’s Jesse Sergent, Conor Dunne (Ireland), Andriy Khripta (Ukraine), Ivan Stevic (Serbia) and Park Sung Baek (Korea) combining and then being joined by Ben King (USA), Sergei Tvetcov (Romania) and Carlos Alzate (Colombia).
The octet opened a lead of over four minutes, but couldn’t stretch things out further. The Dutch did much of the chasing behind and this put pressure on the breakaway, causing Park, Khripta and then Stevic to lose their places out front.
The bunch continued to chase and with 90 kilometres left it was all one big group again.
Various attacks were fired off, with Taylor Phinney (USA) inspired on home soil and pushing ahead with Guillaume Boivin (Canada), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus).
A Phinney win would have been a popular one, not least because of his return from serious injury, but it was not to be. The quartet was recaptured, after which the British team led the bunch onto the Libby Hill climb in a bid to set up Ian Stannard.
He jumped hard with 35 kilometres left and was joined by several others, leading to a slight stall and a counter by Dutch rider Bauke Mollema.
Mollema worked hard but was rejoined by Stannard, plus past world champions Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Tom Boonen (Belgium), as well as Elia Viviani (Italy), Andrey Amador (Costa Rica) and Dani Moreno (Spain).
These went through two to go with a lead of 18 seconds over the Germany-led peloton. Andre Greipel was doing huge turns at the front, sacrificing his chances for John Degenkolb.
The American and Australian teams subsequently joined in and while Boonen pushed hard on Libby Hill to try to keep the momentum going, several riders were able to bridge across.
Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) was one of these and he put in some heft to try to keep the move clear.
The action ramps up
Vuelta a España star Tom Dumoulin led Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Russia) over the finish line with one lap to go. Nelson Oliveira (Portugal) bridged, then pushed ahead with Pavel Brutt (Russia) and Tanel Kangert (Estonia).
Their bid for success was not rewarded, though, with the peloton gobbling them all back up with 12 kilometres to go.
Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) was next to try, putting the head down and getting a slight gap. He was then joined by American rider Tyler Farrar. They opened a seven second advantage, with Farrar appearing the strongest.
He was fired up on the birthday of fallen friend Wouter Weylandt, appearing to draw motivation from that.
The bunch was lurking, though, and dragged them back with five to go. One kilometre later the peloton hit the big climb and Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) hit the jets.
He was joined by John Dengekolb, with Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) getting up to them. The move stalled when others also bridged, though, and while Van Avermaet attacked hard on 23rd Street Sagan was able to contain him.
The Slovakian quickly made his move and got a gap with 2.5 kilometres left. He hurtled down the descent and despite pulling his foot out on the next climb, had enough in hand to reach the finish three seconds clear and take a spectacular win.
World Championships - Road Race (WC) Richmond → Richmond