A few Julys ago, while working as a reporter at Cycling Weekly, we had an afternoon meeting (those things should be abolished during the Tour de France). It meant we missed that day’s flat stage.
Emerging from the conference room, I asked who had won. “Mark Cavendish,” was the reply. But of course. No note of excitement in the respondent’s voice, no surprise for me to hear it. It was like asking someone for the time. I sat down and got on with my work.
This was at the height of Cavendish’s dominance, a time it was more surprising when he didn’t win a bunch sprint. So when the Manx sprinter tumbled out on day one of this year's race, it made me rue that presumption.
How quickly we Britons – I can’t have been the only one - went from a nation of Tour fringe performers to one gorged on Mark Cavendish victories, treating four or five stage wins per Tour as commonplace.
Now, in the first week of the 2014 Tour de France, I’m recognising a similar under-reaction to Peter Sagan’s incredible consistency. For me, the rider of the first week is undoubtedly the Slovakian. His results so far: second, fourth, second, fourth, fourth, fifth (despite crashing yesterday). He hasn’t won a stage, but it’s only a matter of time.
Yet all the plaudits belong to Vincenzo Nibali and Marcel Kittel, all the attention is fixated on the comportment of the yellow jersey contenders over the cobbles. Sagan’s sashay to the green jersey is taken as an unremarkable fait accompli.
Let’s remind ourselves of the facts. He’s only 24, still eligible for the white jersey, and already seemingly cruising to a third consecutive green jersey. “Sagan could take a rest day and still be ahead of them,” Sean Kelly remarked cuttingly in the Eurosport commentary yesterday.
He has the bike handling skills of a trials rider and the pizzazz of a rock star. If it was a new rider doing all this, he’d be praised to the hilt.
Is it because crushing dominance becomes boring when it isn’t new? Perhaps. But sometimes you have to doff your hat and recognise just what he is doing. It is ludicrous in this era of cycling specialisation to have an all-rounder who could mix it with the Tour contenders on the grippy hills outside Sheffield, finish on Kittel’s coat-tails in bunch sprints and smash it with the pavé powerhouses, all the while grabbing intermediate sprint points. Professional cycling hasn’t seen a rider like this for many years.
So, don’t take Peter Sagan for granted. Before we know it, his reign will be over and we’ll be tearing down a champion that we under-appreciated in the first place.
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