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He won last year on a lumpy circuit, and triumphed again this time around on the windy, pan-flat roads of Qatar. Peter Sagan proved strongest in the sprint at the end of the Elite men’s road race, hammering in ahead of Mark Cavendish (Great Britain), Tom Boonen (Belgium) and Michael Matthews (Australia).
Sagan and the other riders were part of a large group which forced its way clear in crosswinds with 178 kilometres remaining, building a solid advantage over the other riders. Several race favourites missed out, including Germans Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel, and despite long chase efforts, those behind never got back on.
The leaders worked well together, with the Belgians in particular driving things on for Boonen.
The group remained together until 2.4 kilometres to go when Tom Leezer (Netherlands) jumped hard and got a gap. Those behind looked at each other and he built a lead of six seconds. Belgium returned to the front and managed to drag him back with 200 metres left, after which the sprint started.
Sagan jumped hard and went to the right of the riders, close to the barriers. Cavendish’s leadout man Adam Blythe went to the left and a moment’s hesitation by Cavendish saw him miss out. He tried to go through the centre but was delayed slightly in weaving his way through.
#doha2016 Sagan – still the best. Cav's mistake was not following Blythe’s leadout & got boxed in.
— Robbie McEwen (@mcewenrobbie) October 16, 2016
Sagan, meanwhile, had no such issues and powered home to grab his second consecutive rainbow jersey.
“I don’t believe it. I am still in shock,” he said afterwards. “I am very, very happy for that.
“At the decisive point when there was crosswind, I was the last one to get into the front group. I was in the second group at that time, then I got across to the first.”
He explained his tactics in the sprint.
“I felt that there was a bit of a headwind, so I thought I have to go from a little bit back. I was also a little bit lucky as Nizzolo didn’t close [the door on] me. If he had, we would have crashed for sure as I wasn’t going to brake.”
His commitment was total and things worked out, with another gold medal waiting for him and for Slovakia.
“I am very happy,” he continued. “It is unbelievable. I have the biggest fan group here from Slovakia. I felt it. Thank you everybody for that, as it gave me a lot of energy.
“Also thank you to my family for travelling with me to these big races. My father is here, my wife. My brother was in the race and was also in the first group. But after he went to get water and was dropped from the first group, but that’s racing.
“And thank you to Michal Kolar. He also did unbelievable work for me. He was always with me. He supported me all the time. I am very happy because my friends from my home town are here. I can see them. Thank you for everything.
“I had to win today.”
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) October 16, 2016
How it played out:
Almost 200 riders lined out in Qatari heat for the final event in this year’s world road championships, the 257.6 kilometre Elite men’s event. Very early on Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea) jumped away and while he was reeled in immediately afterwards, he tried again in a five man group. These too were brought back.
Very soon afterwards seven riders scarpered clear and these had more luck in establishing a gap. With 14 kilometres covered Brayan Ramirez (Colombia), Natnael Berhane (Eritrea), Nic Dougall (South Africa), Ryan Roth (Canada), Anas Ait El Abdia (Morocco), Rene Corella (Mexico) and Sergiy Lagkuti (Ukraine) had three minutes 15 seconds over a disinterested peloton.
This gap grew to over eight minutes as the septet headed out into the desert, and then increased to eleven and a half minutes with 30 kilometres covered.
Former Team Sky rider Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) appeared to have confusion about his nationality and started driving the pace ahead of Great Britain. The GB team then came through and worked to start reducing the break’s advantage. With 70 kilometres gone the gap was down to nine minutes. Soon afterwards, with 178 kilometres left, the Belgian and British teams started hammering, resolving to smash things apart in the crosswinds.
— John Burn-Murdoch (@jburnmurdoch) October 16, 2016
Many of the squad had years of echelon experience and, unsurprisingly, the peloton splintered into several groups. The leaders absorbed the break and together that group worked to stave off the chase from behind.
The Belgians were highly represented with six out front, including 2005 champion Tom Boonen, Greg Van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen, Jens Keukeleire, Jurgen Roelandts and Jasper Stuyven,
Also there was 2011 champion Mark Cavendish plus his Great Britain teammate Adam Blythe, along with defending champion Peter Sagan and Slovakia teammates Juraj Sagan and Michal Kolar. Alexander Kristoff (Norway) had two of his own teammates, namely Edvald Boasson Hagen and Truls Korsaeth,
The others present included Dutch duo Niki Terpstra and Tom Leezer, Australia’s Michael Matthews and Mat Hayman, Italians Elia Viviani, Giacomo Nizzolo, Daniele Bennati and Jacopo Guarnieri, Adrien Petit and William Bonnet (France), Sam Bennett (Ireland) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Denmark).
Meanwhile Luke Durbridge (Australia) and Fernando Gaviria (Colombia) were out of the race after a mechanical caused the former to stall and be hit by the latter.
With a big, dangerous group working hard to gain time, there was panic behind. Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb (Germany) were three fast finishers who had all missed out, as had Nacer Bouhanni (France). Many others were also frustrated, including an impressively strong Taylor Phinney (USA).
The Sagan/Boonen group increased in size when it caught the earlier breakaway move with 145 kilometres left, and the pressure continued. At that point the Greipel group was 52 seconds back and running out of horsepower to chase.
Cort punctured out of the front group, while Bennett injured the hand he hurt badly in the Tour de France when he grabbed a bottle from the side of the road. Both lost out as a result.
Chasing without progress
The third group on the road got back up to the Greipel/Bouhanni group and some of those present added their heft to the pursuit. The gap at this point was just over one minute but it dropped to 54 seconds with 110 kilometres remaining. That was as good as it got, however, with the front group pulling further ahead afterwards.
Behind, frustration was clear as those who had missed the move tried to get some momentum going. Degenkolb squirted water in the face of Belgian rider Jens Debusschere, but this did nothing to help his cause. With 50 kilometres left that group was over two minutes back, prompting Kittel to retire from the race. The 2015 Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix champion Degenkolb would also pull out soon afterwards.
— CyclingHub (@CyclingHubTV) October 16, 2016
Ahead, the Belgian riders were doing huge work and were still on the front inside the final ten kilometres. With 6.7 kilometres left Stuyven and Naesen both crumpled and slipped backwards, at which point the Norwegians took over to try to help Kristoff.
With five kilometres left Terpstra then played his card, but his attack was covered by Hayman and Van Avermaet. Kolar recognised the danger of other surges and hit the front to try to prevent anyone else being able to slip clear. The Slovakian remained at the head of the group until 2.7 kilometres to go, then the group pooled at the front.
That opened things to another move and, sure enough, Leezer jumped hard with 2.4 kilometres left and got a gap.
The group behind hesitated and this gave him six seconds’ advantage with 1.4 kilometres left. Belgium returned to the front and chased hard, but Leezer held a decent lead heading into the final kilometre.
Dreaming of the rainbow jersey, the Dutchman gave it everything but was caught with 200 metres to go. The sprint then opened and Sagan powered through, blasting home ahead of Cavendish and Boonen.
It was a royal sprint of three past world champions, and the most recent holder of the title was the one who came out on top.
Cavendish was frustrated. “I wanted to be on Sagan’s wheel. Ultimately I was, then all of a sudden the road was blocked,” he said. “I tried to find a way through. With less than 100 metres [to go] I managed to…I had to kind of stop pedalling, to go around…I think Michael Matthews… I got back on Tom Boonen but it was too late to come back to Sagan.
“I am a little bit disappointed. I feel like more I lost gold than I won silver, but that is how it is. We did all we can. At the end of the day, it is Peter Sagan. I know I was faster today, but he is a good world champion. He wears that jersey with honour and he represents it well.”
Sagan’s teammate Kolar was psyched that the small Slovakian team pulled off the win again.
“It is amazing,” he said. “We did it last year, we did it this year. Come on!”
He was succinct in his estimation of Sagan. “He is the King.”
Given the season he has had, few would disagree.
Peter Sagan in 2016:
Tour of Flanders
3 TdF stages
TdF Green Jersey
— CafeRoubaix (@CafeRoubaix) October 16, 2016
SAGAN Peter SAGAN Peter Slovakia
CAVENDISH Mark CAVENDISH Mark Great Britain
BOONEN Tom BOONEN Tom Belgium