Giro di Hoody: Peter Sagan learning to win in new ways

The Slovakian superstar counts on tactical expertise as well as strong teamwork to deliver sublime Giro d'Italia stage victory.

Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

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Peter Sagan winning another stage in a grand tour is no big surprise.

After all, he’s been first across the line 12 times at the Tour de France, four times at the Vuelta a España, and now for a second time at the Giro d’Italia with his winning kick Monday.

What’s remarkable isn’t that Sagan won, but how he and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates pulled it off.

The team executed a near-perfect plan in the uneven 139km stage from L’Aquila to Foligno. Though there was only one rated category climb — a fourth-category climb at 104km — the middle part of the stage was lumpy enough for Bora-Hansgrohe to shred the peloton.

Sagan wanted this one, and it was perhaps his best chance to win a stage before the Giro turns into the mountains of northern Italy in the back half of the race.

Caleb Ewan was already out of the Giro — and the Australian took to social media Monday to defend his early exit — so Bora-Hansgrohe plan was simple enough: make the pace so hard on the middle climbs that some of Sagan’s faster rivals wouldn’t make things complicated at the finish line.

The plan worked to a T.

Once the bunch hit the lumpy part of what was the 2021 Giro’s shortest stage, the entire team piled on. Even GC captain Emanuel Buchmann took digs as Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, and Cesare Benedetti took big pulls.

Under the growing, vice-like pressure, sprinter after sprinter lost the wheels ahead of them. Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), the winner of stage 2 and the overnight points leader, was one of the first to wave the flag. Matteo Moschetti (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) were next.

Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos) gamely chased on after the elastic snapped, but finally was forced to concede the obvious. There wouldn’t be a chance at the elusive Giro stage win Monday.

Coming into the finish, Sagan made easy work of the sprinters who were still there, leaving Elia Viviani (Cofidis) choking on his fumes. Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) and Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) settled for the lesser placings as Sagan barnstormed without much of a threat to the tape.

It was a textbook-perfect victory and revealed how much Sagan is evolving and maturing as a racer.

Sagan isn’t as fast as he was a half-decade or so ago, and even though he was never a pure sprinter, he could occasionally win in a bunch kick against the very best of the peloton.

Coming on the heels of a few close calls so far in this Giro, Monday’s tactics confirm that Sagan is changing the way he races as he pedals into his second decade in the WorldTour.

The Slovakian superstar can no longer count on his pure speed. He needs guile, tactical expertise as well as strong commitment from his teammates to win.

Sagan had all that, and more Monday. Count it as one of Sagan’s most sublime team victories.

Sagan waited at the line to thank them all before stepping up onto the winner’s podium, where he also now leads in the points category.

It was a fine day’s work.

More conjecture on the future of Peter Sagan

The victory Monday is Peter Sagan’s third of 2021, and comes as conjecture continues to build around his future in the peloton.

With his contract up at the end of this season, speculation continues to grow about a possible departure from Bora-Hansgrohe. La Gazzetta dello Sport confirmed that earlier reports of a possible move to Deceuninck-Quick-Step is still a possibility.

Sam Bennett is linked to a deal to return to Bora-Hansgrohe, suggesting that Sagan’s departure is imminent. Bennett left the German team two years ago to look for more opportunities at the Tour de France, and it’s hard to imagine that Sagan would want to work for the faster Bennett in the same jersey contests or vice versa.

It’s worth noting that Deceuninck-Quick-Step re-signed ace lead-out man Michael Mørkøv to a two-year deal Monday, meaning that sprinting remains very much on the radar for team boss Patrick Lefevere.

Sagan is no longer the fast finisher he was in the 2010’s, when he could still out-kick the pure sprinters on occasion, but he would fit nicely into any team’s classics and grand tour program.

If he goes anywhere, Sagan would bring his entourage with him, which includes his brother, a few key teammates, staffers, and personal assistant. Much like Alberto Contador during his prime, Sagan is a package deal.

A key piece to any possible Sagan move is Specialized. There are some media reports that bike manufacturer Giant wants to be back in the WorldTour, and could be offering Sagan a big carrot if he joins on their re-entry into racing.

That would mean a big change for Sagan, who has a long-running deal with the U.S. bike manufacturer and reportedly has an ambassadorship deal in place with Specialized following his retirement from racing.

Sagan lost the 2021 classics season due to a bout with COVID-19, but victories like Monday’s come just in time to prove he can still win the biggest races. Sagan is still one of the peloton’s top stars, and won’t have a problem finding suitors.

It will be interesting to see which team will meet his asking price.

GCN+ reshaping the way racing is broadcast

How great is the new GCN+ service?

The ever-improving 5G network means that the Giro d’Italia and the rest of cycling’s top races are literally in your pocket.

The days of having to follow Twitter updates to see what’s happening in the race are long gone. With live streaming services like GCN+ and FloBikes, fans enjoy real-time coverage of the world’s top races.

Not only is the crew at GCN+ and Eurosport doing a top job, but the service is also completely portable. During one long stage last week and with the race broadcast start-to-finish, I had time to hit the veggie market, do some chores around the house, squeeze in a quick ride, make lunch, and even do some work, all the while tuning into the race.

Back in the day, journalists covering a grand tour would have to drive ahead on the course and tune into a hand-held shortwave radio to try to figure out who was in a breakaway or what was going on in the bunch. Live coverage typically didn’t begin until the final two hours.

Today, fans don’t miss a beat. Kudos to the race announcers for keeping it interesting for some of these longer, six-hour transition stages.

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