The five victories that made Peter Sagan unforgettable

Two Monuments, two Grand Tour stages and his first World Championship success, we run down five of the Slovakian’s best victories ahead of his final race

Clock11:12, Saturday 30th September 2023
Bowing out of the sport on Sunday, Peter Sagan will be fondly remembered as one of the greats

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Bowing out of the sport on Sunday, Peter Sagan will be fondly remembered as one of the greats

Thirteen years after Peter Sagan burst onto the scene with Liquigas-Doimo, the Slovak superstar is about to ride his final professional road race. The Tour de Vendée brings the curtain down on a remarkable road racing career that has seen Sagan notch up 121 victories, including some of the sport’s most fabled titles.

Now 33 years of age, the height of Sagan’s powers came to an end at the conclusion of the 2019 season, but whilst the final few years of his career have seen the Slovakian dwindle from the front of the biggest races, there lies a whole host of reasons why Sagan will never be forgotten in our sport.

Read more: World of Cycling: The legacy of Peter Sagan

Before the likes of Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tom Pidcock came to the fore as cycling’s multi-disciplinary, aggressive and enigmatic superstars, it was Peter Sagan who proved a trailblazer as cycling’s ultimate showman and a flash of fun in an era defined, at first, by a sense of shame in the wake of cycling’s chequered past, then later by the controlling dominance of Team Sky in the Grand Tours.

Cutting through the noise of a post-Lance Armstrong landscape and the suffocating infallibility of one of cycling’s great superteams, Sagan forged a trail as a versatile rider who had the legs to match the exuberant sense of individualistic swagger that he brought with him. With his audacious celebrations, no-nonsense approach to the media and his often long, flowing locks, the Slovakian attracted the attention of some of sport’s biggest sponsors, such as Specialized and 100%, and broke beyond the confines of cycling’s ecosystem to rightfully stand tall as one of the most important sports stars of the 2010s.

Now, on the cusp of being seen in the peloton for the final time, Sagan has long since etched his name amongst cycling’s pantheon, not least because of the victories he has taken along the way. His palmarès is unrivalled in the modern age, and here are five victories which we think will make Sagan unforgettable.

Sagan takes the first of three World Championships in 2015

Written by Logan Jones-Wilkins.

Peter Sagan has never been American, but he has always been America’s boy. There really is no rider – beyond Sepp Kuss this September – who has captured more of the nation's fandom than Sagan.

Much of that was due to his loyalty to wiping the floor with his competition in the Amgen Tour of California and US Pro Challenge – winning an incredible number of stages in each – but his status was cemented on the cobbled climbs of Richmond, Virginia, during the 2015 UCI World Championships.

Sagan came into the race as a favourite, but with the unkind status of being a nearly-man, with his boss Oleg Tinkoff bashing the Slovakian in the media for not winning the big prizes. Sagan was in the midst of his streak of green jersey victories, but in the big one-day events he had yet to deliver on his promise. Richmond was his chance to right that perception.

Duly, he delivered in the most Sagan way possible.

After riding anonymously for 15 of the 16 laps, Sagan exploded from the front of the race on the steep cobbles of the 23rd street climb. Greg Van Avermaet was close on his coattails, but after the turn at the top Sagan had broken free of his Belgian rival. One kilometre of super-tucking later and he was free as a bird.

While he had one last scare on the final climb when he pulled out of his cleat, Sagan cruised to the win solo ahead of a stumped peloton. After the line, Sagan revelled in the boisterous American crown, chucking his helmet, glasses and gloves with his flowing hair bouncing around with his celebrations.

For Americans, it will forever and always be the lasting memory of the legend of Peter Sagan.

Fabian Cancellara denied in final Tour of Flanders by Sagan’s solo sensation

Heading into the 2016 campaign, Sagan was the world champion and entering the peak years of his career. With his versatility as not just a sprinter, but a hardened Classics puncheur, Sagan’s palmarès was never going to be complete without a Monument victory. The Slovak was earmarked for Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, and whilst the former mysteriously alluded him throughout his career, the latter two would be picked off with textbook ‘Peter the Great’ performances.

The world champion was on a rampage throughout the 2016 spring Classics and this came to a head at the Tour of Flanders, where he would win in style to deny Fabian Cancellara a fairytale final appearance in ‘De Ronde’. Poetically, it was on the Taaienberg - otherwise known as the Boonenberg in ode to Cancellara’s great rival, Tom Boonen - that the race exploded into the action, with a little over 36km to go.

Sagan and Cancellara were both keeping a keen set of eyes on each other at this point, but it was the Slovak who took the initiative and followed the move of Michał Kwiatkowski in advance of the Kwaremont. Not content with watching his final opportunity sail away up the road, Cancellara exploded from the pack like Lazarus on the penultimate climb and came within six seconds of the wheel of Sagan, who by this point had ridden away with Sep Vanmarcke.

However, it was to be Sagan’s crowning achievement, rather than Cancellara’s romantic goodbye, with the world champion unleashing a wicked turn of pace on the Paterberg to drop Vanmarcke and ride alone to the finish, where he pulled a wheelie beyond the line to celebrate with his usual grandiosity. Sagan had his first Monument in the bag, whilst Cancellara remained a three-time winner of De Ronde.

Chris Froome and Sagan form one of the Tour de France’s more remarkable breakaways

Whittling down Sagan’s 12 stage victories and a record seven green jerseys at the Tour de France to just one moment is no easy task, but we plumped for one of his more peculiar and impressive victories, from 2016.

In a stage battered by crosswinds that resulted in multiple echelons, Sagan sensed his moment to strike within the final 12km, as he burst clear of the peloton on the flat run into Montpellier alongside his Tinkoff teammate, Maciej Bodnar. The pair were soon unexpectedly followed by Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas and yellow jersey holder, Chris Froome. The latter was hoping to take further time on his rivals ahead of the following day’s ascent of Mont Ventoux, resulting in the four out front riding through and off to the finish, successfully holding off the regretful peloton behind.

The move created the eye-catching sight of both the yellow and green jerseys being in a small breakaway at the Tour, something very often seen. Rather humorously, Froome attempted to challenge Sagan in the final sprint, but was no match for the soon-to-be five-time winner of the green jersey. It remains one of the most memorable stage finales of the past decade of WorldTour racing.

Sagan wins his second and final Monument at the 2018 Paris-Roubaix

With the Tour of Flanders to his name in 2016, speculation turned to when the world champion would finally succeed at Paris-Roubaix. We use the word ‘finally’ because it seems like a race that the Slovak was always destined to win, but it was a matter of when, not if. Unlike his all-too-often near misses at Milan-San Remo, Sagan’s moment did eventually come in l’enfer du nord in 2018.

Riding what would be his final spring Classics campaign in the rainbow jersey, Sagan had yet to come closer than his sixth position at the 2014 edition, but this time around, he was keen to let no further opportunities pass him by. Putting his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates to work throughout the race, Marcus Burghardt successfully neutralised reigning champion Greg Van Avermaet’s stinging attack within the final 55km.

The catch was made just in time for Sagan to counter-attack the Belgian’s move and bridge across to the break, where Jelle Wallays and Silvan Dillier were ready, willing and able to work together with Sagan. Wallays came and went, but Dillier rode to the finish in the Roubaix Velodrome with the world champion, where he suffered an inevitable defeat in the sprint to hand Sagan his second Monument victory.

Sagan’s final great swansong comes at the 2020 Giro d’Italia

In the last three years of Sagan’s career, his achievements have been infrequent. He remains the king of Slovakia, won a stage of the Tour de Suisse in 2022 and won a sprint at the Giro d’Italia in 2021, but his true final swansong was arguably at the 2020 Giro d’Italia with his breakaway win on stage 10.

In 2019, Sagan had only won four races and there was a growing sense that his final kick in the sprints had diminished. He may have won the points classification at the Tour for the seventh and final time, but he only won one stage and the following year, he would go winless at the Tour for the first time since 2015. Powerless against Sam Bennett in the battle for the green jersey, the end was nigh for the former world champion at the top - but the 2020 Giro provided one last exceptional performance.

After three second-place finishes before stage 10, the Slovak ventured into the day’s breakaway on a lumpy route to Tortoreto. With his critics at their loudest in a decade and without a win in 15 months, Sagan dropped the likes of Filippo Ganna and Ben Swift on the final climb, before riding solo for 12km and maintaining his delicate advantage to the reduced peloton chasing him from behind.

It would be the final great performance of what will be remembered as one of the finest careers of the 21st century.

Tune into Peter Sagan’s final road race at the Tour de Vendée, with live coverage on GCN+ beginning on Sunday 1 October at 14:15 BST.

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