Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) came out swinging in his Tour de France debut with a win. After winning countless races over his first two years, everyone expected that he’d come to France and at least win one stage and maybe the green jersey – so far he’s failed to disappoint.
“Mentally, he’s ready to do well,” said Liquigas trainer, Paolo Slongo. “He said he’s come here to win a stage, whatever comes on top of that is extra. However, his dream is to win the green jersey. He left home with this dream. Even if it won’t be easy, he has all the cards to play.”
Slongo spoke with Cycling Weekly and a couple of other journalists outside the team bus while Sagan accepted flowers on the podium for his stage win. He recalled when he travelled to Sagan’s hometown in ?ilina, Slovakia, in December 2009 to meet the 19-year-old.
Team DS, Stefano Zanatta had already seen him win the cross-country junior title in 2008 at the mountain bike World Championships in Trento, Italy. Sagan’s raw talent impressed him. He explained to Cycling Weekly that he reached an agreement with Sagan for him to race on Cannondale’s mountain bike team and Liquigas’ development road team in 2009. After that year, he was ready.
“I went there in December or November of 2009, it was cold and snowy. ?ilina seemed like a poor city, one you’d find in those ex-communism countries,” Slongo explained.
Over a month later, he saw Sagan debut in the pro ranks in the Tour Down Under. Sagan escaped with Lance Armstrong on day one and like today, made an impression immediately. “He came into our team and didn’t even know about Armstrong. After that, Armstrong took note of him!”
Despite his history, Slongo said that Sagan is naturally gifted. He pointed to the incident in the prologue yesterday when Sagan had to put down his left foot to remain upright in a corner.
“He came to cycling without the culture or history that we have in Italy, but he had these abnormal traits. Look at what he does now, it’s just natural for him. Like that roundabout yesterday, another 10 riders would’ve crashed in the same situation.”
In the last two years, Sagan has won stages in Paris-Nice to the Vuelta a España, from Poland to California, Switzerland to Oman. He’s yet to win a big classic, but they are well within reach. This year, he placed fourth in Milan-San Remo, second in Ghent-Wevelgem, fifth in Flanders and third in Amstel Gold.
“I didn’t even think he’d come out so fast like he did,” Slongo added. “My personal bet is that – with the proper maturation, weight loss – is that he’ll become a Grand Tour rider. Like Armstrong, who began his career as a bigger rider, a little brash, who no one gave much faith. He has no limits in the one-day races and I’m betting on the Grand Tours as well.”
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