Peter Sagan is the World Champion and it was fantastic. The pack had fought throughout to keep attacks at bay but with each ascent of Libby Hill Park the chances of a bunch sprint looked less likely. Positioned at the end of the circuit, the short and aggressive cobbled sections – the second named 23rd Street – would act as launch pads for riders Zdenek Stybar, John Degenkolb, Greg Van Avermaet and, lastly, Sagan.
Keeping an uncharacteristically low profile throughout the race, Sagan emerged on the final ascent of Libby Hill Park, nestling into a group of chasers responding to Stybar. The gap closed prior to 23rd Street and that is when Sagan made his move, accelerating over a rough section to the head of the race. His gap grew and he took a lump of time out of his tired looking rivals arriving at the false flat with a useful lead. But the race wasn’t won and Sagan looked shattered. His pedal seemed to slip and his legs looked cramped. He looked empty. The peloton appeared behind but Sagan had one last kick and, almost in slow motion, found the finish line he so craved. He even had time to celebrate, half-shaking his head in disbelief. He abandoned his bike as riders wheeled past him starting with dejected runner up Michael Matthews. The Australian added an impressive second place to a year of near misses (San Remo, Amstel Gold) but appeared to have cheered up a little by the podium presentation. Matthews had the legs to win in Richmond and his tactics, to sit back whilst others went, paid off but for one man.
Sagan walked on through the riders receiving high fives and back pats from his rivals. Perhaps this last 18 months Sagan has gained sympathy from his peers as he has transitioned from unstoppable youngster to unfortunate second place specialist. Perhaps they felt the lunacy of Oleg Tinkoff’s comments, so obviously under-appreciating his star Slovakian. Or it could just have been Sagan’s cracking personality, jovial in both win and defeat.
Ramūnas Navardauskas completed the podium for Lithuania in what was a race that will disappoint a lot of cycling’s biggest nations. If a Lithuanian can arrive at the finale fresh and positioned for podium contention, then perhaps a team of superstars is not the way to go. Sagan treated us to a wheelie before a less expected – but equally as brilliant – moment given to the refugee crisis in Europe. Sagan spoke of the recent problems and how it helped him become motivated in preparation. It seemed a topic he really cared about and one nobody would expect a new World Champion to raise. For a man usually full of jokes and, on one occasion, a Wolf of Wall Street reference, this interview was even more poignant. He seemed reluctant to move on when asked to talk about his brilliant winning move.
Perhaps I’m biased as a huge Sagan fan but I’m not his biggest supporter. That title would go to his girlfriend who ran over and kissed him once for every second place he had achieved this year.