Peter Sagan delivered for the second time in as many years at the season’s big finale. The result followed a nasty switch in wind direction and a front group that tore apart the peloton. Just as in 2015, Sagan kept a low profile throughout the race but this time used his formidable kick to defeat his remaining rivals in a reduced sprint. He can also count fantastic support from his two countrymen and a stuttered launch by Mark Cavendish among contributing factors. Here’s seven key moments from Qatar.
1. Crosswind chaos
In hindsight, there was always going to be a crosswind in the first half of the Qatar course. Somehow we all convinced ourselves it wouldn’t be too much of a problem (or was that just me?). Even those calling for a blustery race would not have expected such a large selection to be made so early on. There hadn’t been too much disruption in the other road races but none had a team so obviously made for the wind as the Belgian seniors. As soon as Jasper Stuyven, Oliver Naesen and Jurgen Roelandts hit the front mania spread through the bunch and the race waved goodbye to handfuls of riders including more than a few race favourites.
2. Gaviria hits the deck
Shortly after the peloton split, Fernando Gaviria suffered a nasty, high speed crash with Luke Durbridge and Luka Mezgec. He seemed to take all the impact on his back but the verdict was a broken shoulder. Staggeringly, he climbed back on to his bike and set off to chase whichever group was in front of him. Fantastic to see but ultimately futile, Gaviria abandoned a short while after. He looks a future World Champion but his Doha charge was cut brutally short. In truth, the manic nature of the race may have always proved too much too soon for the young Colombian.
3. Degenkolb burns out
It was the usually organized Germans that looked the most beaten down by the crosswinds. Before the race we asked who would lead the team and Andre Greipel was assumed the chosen one. However, it was John Degenkolb who gained more airtime on Sunday through his refusal to give up, an altercation with Jens Debuscherre and his close-to-tears abandonment. The Germans were caught out badly but Degenkolb headed a chase group defiantly for any number of kilometres. Unhappy with the miniscule progress (and what looked to be a tearing up of the pre-race plan) Degenkolb put in a number of doomed attacks. Everytime he kicked he was followed by Belgium’s Debuscherre acting as his shadow. He eventually snapped, squirting his water bottle not-quite-playfully in the Belgian’s face. A huge Degenkolb fan, I still struggle to justify his actions; Debuscherre was simply doing his job. The dual-Monument winner would eventually abandon and was seen slumping against a car with his head in his hands. I’ve no doubt he’ll be back.
4. Tom Leezer attacks
As the distance remaining ticked below 10km the front group grew tense. The Belgian squad rattled through riders whilst everybody else appeared caught in two minds between attacking and saving their legs. The Dutch simply couldn’t allow a sprint with Nicki Terpstra and Tom Leezer their only remaining riders. Terpstra eventually made a move but it was Leezer’s counter punch which stuck. The penultimate kilometre was bizarre. It looked as though Leezer’s five second advantage was going to stick. History said he’d be caught but there was something hesitant about the nervous chasers. Imagine if Tom Leezer had become World Champion? The Dutchman has one pro win to his name and spends much of the year as a worker for Lotto NL-Jumbo. How would his role/contract/belief have changed if he’d been pulling on the rainbow stripes every race? I’ll guess we’ll never know.
5. The final sprint
Leezer was caught and the contenders finally took action. Jacopo Guarnieri took to the front followed by compatriot Giacomo Nizzolo. Guarnieri’s usual leader Alexander Kristoff was further back with Sagan, Cavendish, Tom Boonen and Michael Matthews also poised to make moves. Nizzolo went to the right and Sagan followed with Cavendish on his wheel. The Slovakian emerged round Nizzolo – squeezing along the barriers – whilst Cavendish was forced to change tact and move back left. In the centre of the road Boonen had charged but a tired Matthews was struggling to make headway. Cavendish navigated round the two – losing speed – before finally roaring towards the line. Sagan was a class apart on the right and had opened up a gap. Cavendish was the fastest finisher but simply had too much to do.
6. Contrasting emotions
As Sagan sat up into an unusually emphatic celebration, Cavendish lifted the front of his bike and drove the wheel angrily into the ground. The Brit gave a look round to Matthews – the rider who had hampered his charge – as if searching for somebody or something to blame. In truth, the Australian had done nothing wrong. His finish had not been fast enough on this occasion and Cavendish had been forced into a long way round. The Brit grimaced in frustration before doing his very best to offer Sagan a sincere congratulations and handclasp. Sagan had made most of the lead group look inferior but overhead shots show Cavendish to be finishing at eye-catching speed. Who would have won had the two sprinted side-by-side? Cavendish closed in despite his issues and may very well have taken the win; ‘I’ve lost gold rather than won silver’ the gutted Manxman explained. He’d perked up somewhat by the medal ceremony; partly due to the fact it’s impossible to remain angry around a happy Peter Sagan. The Slovakian’s wonderful positioning had once again delivered the win.
7. Sagan’s Interview
Okay, so this one technically takes place after the race. Following his Richmond win Sagan cut a wonderful interview citing his motivations ahead of the race and a word on greater issues going on in the world. By contrast, his Doha interview was if he’d been stopped in the street and asked for a comment. It was equally as brilliant and by the time he was joined by older brother Juraj and 19th place finisher Michael Kolar the three resembled giddy teenagers who’d just pulled off a minor heist. Draped in a Slovakia flag for much of the aftermath, Sagan was quick to thank his teammates for another sterling performance and his glee at landing the victory was clear to see. He’s a brilliant personality and exceptional rider, yet it appeared as though he had never expected a second world title. He rides with the greatest of attitudes accepting victory and defeat with a similar laidback outlook. What’s next for Sagan?