Slovak powers clear to stage two victory
On a finale which seemed to rule out the purest sprinters but which also didn't suit a solo attack, a simple process of deduction made Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) the favourite for the win on stage two of the Tour of Oman.
The Slovak duly delivered, and stomped up the final ramp to the finish line in a startling show of strength. Indeed, in only his third year as a professional and still just 22 years of age, Sagan's performances at times seem to exceed all logic.
Wednesday afternoon in Wadi Dayqah Dam was another such occasion. With Baden Cooke (GreenEdge) already in full flight, Sagan opened the throttle with 280 metres to go and motored past to take the win with disarming ease.
As he stood at the finish line afterwards, there was a degree of fatalism about Sagan's description of his win. "I went quite early because it seemed that the others were already launching their sprints, and then it came as it came," he said.
Having felt his way into the season at the Tour of Qatar, Sagan stalled to fifth place on the opening day in Oman, but the question appeared to be when, and not whether, his first win of the season would arrive on the Arabian Peninsula.
"I'm very happy that my first win came here already," Sagan said. "In Qatar I raced to get back into race rhythm, so in this race I could try and go for the win. I'm very happy that it's arrived now."
With another such uphill finish line promised on stage four, Sagan should have an opportunity to add to his bounty later in the week. "I don't know yet, I haven't looked at the stages," he said.
After pausing to smile bashfully for photographs with an enthusiastic horde of local children, Sagan was ushered towards the podium. He descended wearing the leader's red jersey, the white jersey of best young rider and the green points jersey. He unzipped the latter two and handed them to a soigneur, and then fielded more questions with the air of a man who simply couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
"Maybe it seemed easy, but it wasn't like that," Sagan stressed. "I have to thank the team. Without them, I wouldn't have... well, it would have been difficult to win.
"They pulled at the front first. Then in the finale Daniel [Oss] went with a break, which meant I could stay calm because we had someone in front. Bodnar pulled in the last few kilometres to stop other riders going clear. All the team worked, Vincenzo [Nibali] too."
At the repeated insistence of the official broadcaster, Sagan switched reluctantly from Italian to English, speaking with the reserve of a young Sean Kelly. "Can you win overall?" he was asked. "I'll try, but I think not." Who will? "I don't know."
Back in Italian, Sagan was more expansive when it came to discussing his spring programme. Like Kelly before him, the youngster has designs on going into cycling's heartlands and carrying off their biggest prizes.
"After this race, I want to do well at Tirreno-Adriatico, which is quite important. Then the first classic, Milan-San Remo, which is one of the big objectives. Then Flanders."
And a debut Tour de France?
"Maybe yes, but it's better not to think about it. We'll see how things go."