Sagan Makes History With Third Consecutive World Championships Victory
Peter Sagan has soared into cycling’s history books on Sunday as the 27-year-old Slovakian became the first rider ever to secure three consecutive victories in the Elite Men’s World Championships Road Race.
Despite a recent bout of illness, Sagan captured his third UCI World Championships gold medal in a row by narrowly outsprinting Alexander Kristoff (Norway) in Bergen’s Festplassen street. The duo outdistanced Australia’s Michael Matthews, who took the bronze, by several bike lengths.
The Slovakian had flown well under the radar prior to the final bunch sprint of 26 riders that decided the 267.5 kilometre 2017 Elite Men’s road race. But when it counted and Kristoff charged away, Sagan quickly powered round him, finally beating the Norwegian by around a quarter of a wheel.
Sagan has thus become the fifth rider in history, together with Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen, Eddy Merckx and Oscar Freire, to equal the jointly held record of three men’s World Championships road titles. But Sagan is the first to do so on three successive years.
"I want to dedicate this to [the late] Michele Scarponi” - the former Giro d’Italia winner who died in a training accident this April - “because he would have had a birthday tomorrow. It was a very sad story this year,” Sagan said afterwards. “Secondly I want to dedicate this victory to my wife, we are expecting a baby. It’s a very nice end of the season, and I’m very happy.”
As for his making cycling history, Sagan commented, “It’s something special for sure. It doesn’t change anything, but for me it’s something very nice.”
Sagan pointed out that although the race had come down to a bunch sprint, his third win had been anything but straightforward. As close as five kilometres from the finish, in fact, Sagan still thought that the race would be won by a breakaway group.
“In the end, it came to a sprint and it was unbelievable. Kristoff is racing at home [in Norway], and I’m sorry for that, but I’m happy to win again.”
"It’s very hard to say [how it came to a sprint], you saw in the [final] climb we [the peloton] were already in three pieces or more. There was a breakaway, and afterwards in just a few seconds, it all came together in the finish. You couldn’t predict it.”
Unlike previous Road Races in this year’s UCI World Championships, a successful breakaway seemed all but impossible to form. Arguably the most dangerous move consisted of an eight man attack that formed with 65 kilometres to go, containing Alessandro De Marchi (Italy), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia), Tim Wellens (Belgium), Marco Haller (Austria), David de la Cruz (Spain), Jack Haig (Australia), Lars Boom (Netherlands) and Odd Christian Eiking (Norway).
But hard work by the Netherlands reeled that move in shortly before the last lap. A couple of digs by World Time Trial Champion Tom Dumoulin subsequently looked promising, but in fact it was a blistering uphill charge by Julian Alaphilippe (France) on the last ascent of Salmon Hill, the decisive climb, with 12 kilometres to go that looked like the most likely to stick.
Alaphilippe was joined by Italy’s Gianni Moscon close to the summit and the two powered down the fast descent with a handful of seconds on a small chasing group. Then when Alaphilippe shed Moscon four kilometres from the finish, the key question became whether the chasing group, less than 10 seconds behind at that point, could organise themselves to bring back the Frenchman.
Finally the chasers did exactly that, and Italy led the front group of 26 riders into the last, sweeping right hand band, reeling in a late sally last-ditch sally by Denmark’s Christopher Juul Jensen (Denmark) in the process.
But when Kristoff made his move, to the delight of the thousands of his compatriots crowded into central Bergen, Sagan was right on his wheel - and then ahead of him.
Sagan’s historic win brings down the curtain on the 2017 UCI Road World Championships in the most dramatic of ways. And the Championships will be back next year of course - in Austria from September 24th - 30th.