Peter Sagan’s World Championship win on Sunday was not a surprise, but expected by the man that discovered him and brought him into cycling’s professional ranks.
The 25-year-old Slovak attacked on the cobbled Libby Hill climb 2.7 kilometres out. He rode away solo and won the rainbow jersey with three seconds to spare ahead of Michael Matthews (Australia) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania).
“It was time that he won a race like that, he had the numbers to do it, the desire to win, but he never was able to hit the target,” Stefano Zanatta told Cycling Weekly.
“It was not secure, but it was almost expected that he’d win big like this.”
The Italian, then a sports director for team Liquigas/Cannondale, discovered Sagan after his win in the junior mountain bike world championships in Italy in 2008. He met with him afterwards during some free time at the road world championships in Varese, Italy, later that year and agreed on a deal.
Liquigas signed Sagan and allowed him to race another year in the amateur ranks and continue mountain biking through 2009. Zanatta said that Sagan only truly began to convince him of his star status when he debuted with the team in the 2010 Tour Down Under at 19 years old.
Watching the Worlds late on Sunday evening from home in Veneto, Italy, Zanatta remembered Sagan’s professional win later in that 2010 season.
“He did well in the Tour Down Under so we took him to Paris-Nice. He won his first stage of two like [the one at the Worlds], on a small climb three kilometres from the finish in Aurillac. Ahead of Joaquím Rodríguez and after 200 kilometres. That was his first win,” Zanatta said.
“The Worlds win was not a surprise, it was time that he did it. He has the quality to win such a race.
“Remember, he won the green jersey and three stages in his first Tour de France, and we were there for the overall with Vincenzo Nibali. This year, he won the green jersey again for a fourth time, and with a team based around Alberto Contador.”
Check out Peter Sagan’s Specialized S-Works Venge
With Liquigas/Cannondale, Sagan developed quickly. He placed second in Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders in 2013. Already, a big one-day win was expected of the young star, but he struggled to live up to that billing in recent years.
He won Ghent-Wevelgem and the E3 Harelbeke, but was off the mark in the monuments. This spring, after signing a lucrative €4m (£2.95m) contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, critics wondered if Sagan lost focus.
“It was to do with all the changes. With [Liquigas], he grew and knew everyone in the team. He needed time to change and grow in Tinkoff. He needed time to get to know everyone. In fact, later in the season, he got rolling with two stages and the overall in the Tour of California.
“The Worlds is basically a big Classic win. He can win a monument, and that should be his next target. He just needs to become more comfortable with his talents and his abilities. With maturity, I believe he will.”
Sagan, Zanatta said, will continue to live up to expectations with a big monument win in Milan-San Remo, Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. It is just a matter of time.