The Paradox of Peter Sagan

Tour green jersey is a paradoxical figure, one moment attacking, stone-faced, and putting on a show the next

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BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, France (VN) — All he does is win. But there is a startling polarity in Peter Sagan, who’s already lit this Tour de France on fire.

Sagan (Liqguigas-Cannondale) refused to pull through during his stage 1 win, when maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) implored him not once but twice. After his stage 3 victory, Sagan said, when asked about his chances to be a world champion: “I want to win everything.” He means it.

But during the very same interview, he said he couldn’t believe Ivan Basso was working for someone like him. “I never thought someone like Basso would do such a great job for me… in fact, I have so much respect for him I am the one who should clean his shoes,” Sagan said. He means that, too.

And this is the Paradox of Peter. It’s way too early in the young Slovak’s career to call him the new Eddy Merckx, but he has displayed Cannibal-like tendencies on the bike. In the final 500 meters it seems as if he’d kick a puppy to win. But then he sits up and smiles huge, as if it’s all a joke, some game he’s playing with everyone.

At one point in time, years ago, Sagan won a bike race on a bike he borrowed — from his sister. He was that good then. The rest of the world is seeing he’s that good now.

The natural showed the field again Tuesday his form and cold-bloodedness with a devastating sprint unleashed at the apex of the day’s finishing ramp, a 700-meter climb into the finish of Boulougne-sur-Mer. He waited until the climb eased, and blew the leaders to bits. Sagan finished ahead of Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and fellow Slovak Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Everyone knew what was coming. It’s just that no one could do a thing about it.

He had enough time to do what he called “the Forrest Gump” at the finish line, a man running. His teammates asked him to do the Forrest Gump, as in “Run, Forest run,” in the event he won again, which they seemed to expect.

“My teammates, they told me: Win, you just win,” he said, laughing.

When pressed on how many victory salutes he’d have to come up with at this Tour, he said only: “I don’t know… maybe [Wednesday]?”

Yes, maybe Wednesday. It would be more of a surprise for him to win a flat finish against Mark Cavendish and the other thoroughbreds, but no one would be surprised, would they?

“Honestly, I mean, it’s almost normal worldwide, probably, it’s not normal because he’s never been at the Tour de France, but when we see how many victories he’s already had… he won so many races already in this way,” Cancellara said of Sagan. “He’s young. He has just this will, this power, this class, doing these kinds of accelerations — he has just the thing you need.”

Cancellara said he spoke with Sagan after the two battled for stage 1, telling Sagan he had a great future and more wins to come. “I think that’s just the beginning, what he’s doing here.”

The stage 3 win should quiet the talk of his stage 1 victory over Cancellara, in which he ruthlessly snagged the Swiss’ wheel and refused to pull through, forcing Cancellara to tow him to the line, where Sagan took the win in the sprint. In Tuesday’s win, he was in a class by himself.

It’s early, but we could all be seeing something virtuosic unfold here, at this Tour and in the years to come. Sagan’s a marvel to watch on the bike. Teammates tell of him bumping up stairs on his bike during training rides, of insane wheelies and unconscionable skill.

It’s no wonder — on Tuesday, Sagan said he rides like a boyhood idol, Valentino Rossi, a prolific Italian MotoGP world champion.

“What I want is to make a show on my bike,” Sagan said. “When I was a boy, I looked at sports on TV, not just cycling. I was a big fan of Valentino Rossi. It was fun for me to look like him. And I thought, when I am bigger and stronger, I want to do something like that.”

Sagan isn’t shocked he’s going so well in France. “After my victories in California an Switzerland, I came to the Tour de France with the idea of winning a few stages here,” he said. “Now, what I want is to keep the green jersey to Paris.”

Sagan, in this form, has to be in the running for an Olympic medal and a high placing at worlds. When asked what his future holds, he was succinctly Sagan.

“I would like to win all the races,” he said. “I would like to win everything.”

In that case, welcome to the show.

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