Sagan edging closer to classics breakout

It's a matter of when, not if, the young Slovak earns his first classics win

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MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) — It was another afternoon of so close, yet so far for Peter Sagan in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race. The young Slovak edged closer to a classics win on the Cauberg and proved it is a matter of when, not if, he will break through for a classics win.

Perhaps no rider has been more consistent across the spring classics than Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), but he has been unable to break through with a big win. The Slovak sensation has scored four top-five results in the last five one-day races, starting with Milan-San Remo.

On Sunday, Sagan hit the base of the Cauberg with all options of victory. He followed the wheel of Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and opened up his sprint early, only to be beaten by Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol).

Another lesson learned for the 22-year-old, something that he hoped would pay in the coming events.

“If I had attacked just a few seconds later, I would have finished in front of everyone,” Sagan said. “I lost it in the last meters, and for that, I am angry. I always race to win; still, third place at Amstel Gold is not a bad result.”

This season has been Sagan’s first big shot at taking on the spring classics and he has more than lived up to expectations. Although the big win has eluded him so far, Sagan has been knocking on the door more consistently and more intently than any one single rider this spring.

While most riders specialize, either tackling the cobbles or the hillier Ardennes courses, Sagan has the skill set and ambition to race across the board.

He skipped Paris-Roubaix, simply to avoid unnecessary risks so early in his career, but he’s confirmed that a victory is just a matter of time.

At Milan-San Remo, he won the sprint from the front chase group for fourth, just two seconds behind the winning trio. At Ghent-Wevelgem, only a superior Tom Boonen knocked him back while at the Tour of Flanders, he was second in the field sprint for fifth after a late solo effort to bridge to the leaders failed.

During that run, he also won a stage and wore the leader’s jersey at Three Days of De Panne, finished 14th at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and shook off a heavy crash Wednesday at Brabantse Pijl to start Sunday.

Last year, Sagan raced a similar program, including a start at Paris-Roubaix, but only managed to pop into the top 20 once, with 17th at Milan-San Remo.

His tremendous run so far through the spring classics reveals just how far Sagan has come in his third full year in the pro ranks.

Sagan admitted that the complicated situation on the Cauberg was challenging to play correctly from a tactical standpoint, with a big group of 30 riders barreling into the base of the final climb.

“The end of the race was difficult to interpret. There were a lot of us and you had to keep your eye on a lot of different opponents,” Sagan said. “There was a big group and when I saw Gilbert attack, I didn’t think twice. Everything is experience for the future. Today I realized that I can win a classic. When, of course, remains to be seen.”

Looking at the way Sagan has been riding, it seems to be only a question of when, not if, he snags a classics trophy. But for now, Sagan is closing the book on his 2012 spring classics program. The Liquigas team has just confirmed that instead of racing Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Sagan jumped on a flight Monday for home. Up next: the Tour of California, where American fans can get another glimpse of cycling’s latest phenomenon.

Also check out Sagan’s Cannondale SuperSix EVO

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