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."
Tour de France 2012: Coverage index
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage one: Sagan wins stage at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
CW's Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Cycling Weekly's live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule
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Founded in 1891, Cycling Weekly and its team of expert journalists brings cyclists in-depth reviews, extensive coverage of both professional and domestic racing, as well as fitness advice and 'brew a cuppa and put your feet up' features. Cycling Weekly serves its audience across a range of platforms, from good old-fashioned print to online journalism, and video.
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