Re-peter Sagan: winning runs in modern cycling

Peter Sagan's winning streak at the Tour of California is now four stages long. We look at the other riders to have achieved the feat.

Words by Colin Statley

Thursday May 17, 2012

No, your television isn't broken, nor is Eurosport isn't playing a repeat of the same stage over and over. Peter Sagan just keeps winning stages at the Tour of California. Again, again and S-again, you might say.

While his Groundhog Day-style domination is rather destroying interest in the USA's biggest race, his four stage wins have proven excellent news for cycling stat fans. It provided the perfect excuse to trawl through the archives. And that's our joint-favourite activity, along with shopping for snazzy sweater-vests.

Which other riders have had four consecutive stage wins in the same race? The last man to achieve it before Sagan was a rider of similar silence and precocity: Edvald Boasson Hagen.

The Norwegian turned the Tour of Britain turgid in 2009 with his four-on-the-trot down the Tees-Exe line, going on to win the overall for good measure.

Five in a row
As for five consecutive wins in a race? Even rarer. Everyone’s favourite ruddy-faced Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, who once spent an entire interview with Cycle Sport fiddling with his sunglasses, was the last to achieve that in 2006 at sh*t small race, the Oddset-Rundfahrt.

Why are strings of wins like this so rare? First and foremost, the vast majority of stage races are populated with a spicy variety of stages: flat, time-trials, hills and mountains. (Ignore the recent Giro del Trentino, which had three summit finishes in four days - at least they had the decency to put in a TTT on the first day).

Then there's the fact that there are 180 other riders who all really want to win, most of whom are specialised in one role, be it climber, leader, domestique or sprinter.

In a modern Grand Tour at least, four stage wins in a row is virtually impossible. Mario Cipollini was the last man to achieve it, with his back-to-back quartet at the 1999 Tour, although even then, the third was thanks to a disqualification for Tom Steels.

There are so many variables in cycling. A rider needs to be on top of his game every day to win - and that requires a fair slice of luck and a team dedicated to chasing rather than let a breakaway go.

Sagan joins exclusive company

Versatility and sheer talent are the most crucial components. At 22, the only thing missing from Sagan's armoury is ability in the high mountains and time-trials.

He now joins a very exclusive club, with the likes of Rik Van Looy, Freddy Maertens and Philippe Gilbert, who did it with one-day races, the show-off.

The Slovak champion has now had twenty-six wins in two and a half years. He's no longer a starlet or a phenomenal talent or the future of cycling: he’s a bona fide star in the present, the first of the 1990s-born generation.

That’s a very depressing fact for an office which fondly remembers eight-tracks, brick phones and Bananarama.

Lastly, spare a thought for poor Heinrich Haussler who, with bizarre serendipity, has finished second four times in a row to Sagan in California.

At least, with today's fifth stage time-trial, barring an unforeseen miracle, his and Sagan’s winning and losing streaks ought to come to an end.

Four or more wins in a row: 21st century riders to do it
Alessandro Petacchi 5 – Oddset Rundfahrt, stages one, two, three, four and five, 2006

Alessandro Petacchi 5 – Ruta del Sol stages four and five, Trofeo Luis Puig, Tour of Valenciana stages one and two, 2005

Peter Sagan 4 – Tour of California, stages one, two, three and four, 2012

Philippe Gilbert 4 – Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 2011

Philippe Gilbert 4 – Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, Giro del Piemonte, Lombardia, 2009

Tom Boonen 4 – Doha GP, Tour of Qatar stages one, two and three, 2006

Erik Zabel 4 – Bayern Rundfahrt stages three, four, five and six, 2001

History's recent braces
Freddy Maertens 5, 1975 Dauphine – stages one, 2a, 2b, three and four

Freddy Maertens 5, 1977 Vuelta – stages five, six, seven, eight and nine

Mario Cipollini 4, 1999 Tour de France - stages four, five, six, seven

Eddy Planckaert 4, 1984 Etoile de Besseges – stages 1, 2a, 2b and three

Eddy Planckaert 4, 1982 Vuelta a Espana – stages 1a, 1b, two and three

Dietrich Thurau 4, 1978 Etoile de Besseges – stages two, three, four and five

Rik Van Looy 4, 1965 Tour of Sardinia – stages three, four, five and six

Grand Tour records: consecutive stage wins
Giro d’Italia: Alfredo Binda, 1929 – eight stages

Vuelta a Espana: Delio Rodriguez, 1941 – six stages

Tour de France: Francois Faber, 1909 – five stages

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