What is Peter Sagan capable of?


Going by his career thus far it seems as though barely anything is out of bounds for this young prodigy. His surprise win in Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday, on a stage where most expected the finish to be contested by the like of Cadel Evans, Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali, saw the 22-year-old all-rounder came through to take the win ahead of Roman Kreuziger and teammate Vincenzo Nibali.

With this in mind, lets take a look at what Sagan has achieved so far, and what he could do in future.

Hills

We already know what he can do in what most people see as his favourite terrain – short sharp hills. In 2010, he burst onto the scene at Paris-Nice, beating Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador into Aurillac after the short sharp Côte de la Martinie. Good placings towards the end of the year in the Giro del Veneto, Giro della Romagna and GP de Montréal confirmed this promise, and last year his domination at the Tour de Pologne erased any doubt that he would be a star of the future on hilly terrain.


Sprinting

His sprinting talent is clear for all to see. From the points classification in his first Paris-Nice and his stage wins at the Tour of California over the past two years, to his victories in the Vuelta last year, his immense talent in this discipline has been obvious for some time. However, we have yet to see him prevail against the likes of Greipel and Cavendish in a flat-out sprint. With Milan-San Remo fast approaching, maybe we won’t have to wait long.

Time Trialing

This often tends to be overlooked by people when they talk about Sagan’s talent. So far he has shown that he is a good time trialist, certainly good enough to place in the top 30 or so on mid-length efforts. He has already proven this with consistent placings in the 20-35km time trials he has done so far – 29th at Romandie 2010, 17th at California 2010, 14th at California 2011, and 27th at Suisse 2011.

Sagan has, however, proven more talented at shorter TTs and prologues (as one would expect from a sprinter). Last year’s podium finish in the Tour de Suisse 7.3km TT and his showings at the same race and Paris-Nice one year earlier prove this. So far then, it looks as if hilly week-long stage races will be his playground in the future.


Cobbles

We haven’t really had much to go on so far in his professional career. At junior Paris-Roubaix in 2008 he finished runner-up to Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s now neo-pro Andrew Fenn, so there is certainly some promise in this area. Last year he made it to the end of his first ever men’s Paris-Roubaix, finishing in 86th place. We will have to wait and see how he progresses in this discipline, but the potential is certainly there.

Climbing

Last, but not least we come to climbing. In 2010, we got a taste of his climbing ability when he stuck with the lead group on the climbing stage to Big Bear Lake and then won the sprint – this on a day when Boonen, Bos, Haedo, Cavendish, Renshaw and Chicchi all failed to finish or missed the time cut. While this stage wasn’t as strenuous a mountain-top finish as we see in the Grand Tours, it still showed that he could climb mountains as well as hills.

On the Tour de Suisse stage to Grindewald last year, Sagan put in yet another shock performance, hanging in with the lead group over the cols, before putting in a fantastic descent, and winning the stage. In the process beating riders such as the Grand Tour winners Damiano Cunego and Danilo Di Luca, as well as the Schleck brothers and climber Juan Mauricio Soler.

So there is no doubt that he has some talent when it comes to the big mountains too. However, tomorrow he will find himself in an entirely new position. Sagan is in 4th place on the Tirreno-Adriatico GC, surrounded by some of the world’s premium mountain climbing talent – names such as Horner, Kreuziger, Di Luca, Nibali, Rodriguez, Scarponi and Garzelli. This is the first time he will find himself going into a mountain stage with a GC place to fight for.

The final mountain is a tough one to race up this early in the season, with a 6.9% average, including a short section of 12% towards the beginning. This is the big test of Peter Sagan’s climbing ability, and while it sounds absurd to be judging a rider already at the age of 22, the result of the stage might give us some idea of whether this guy could be someone who can contend in pretty much any kind of race.

Conclusion

Peter Sagan can already be considered as one of the best all-rounders in today’s peloton, and to achieve what he has done already, at such a young age, is quite incomprehensible. But there will certainly be more to come. With his talents for sprinting and climbing hills, races like the World Championships, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the points classifications at Grand Tours should one day be well within his grasp.

We haven’t seen him properly tested on the cobbles yet, but he seems like the type of rider that could go well at a hilly cobbled classic such as the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. And how about Grand Tour GC aspirations? He isn’t currently the type of rider that one would expect to be fighting for the overall win at the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, but with so much talent it’s hard to rule anything out.

Today could give us an idea of just how many strings this amazing young talent has in his bow.

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