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Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Cannondale team still looking for the first victory of 2014
A group of Slovakian cycling fans waved a national flag and cheered for Peter Sagan at the end of the third stage of the Tour of Oman, but he was in no mood for celebration after finishing second behind Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) in the sprint that decided the 145k stage to Al Bustan.
Sagan is still to land his first win of the season and no other rider in the Cannondale team has won a race either. Cameron Wurf was second overall Herald Sun Tour and Viviani was third in a sprint at the Santos Tour down Under. They have tried hard and gone close to victory but so far there has been no cigar for the Italian-based team.
Sagan has finished second three times in 14 days of racing at the Tour de San Luis, the Dubai Tour and the Tour of Oman. He has also taken a third place but has yet to cross the finish line first and break the duck on his palmares.
There is no real pressure on his broad young shoulder because the Tour of Oman is a warm weather, early season shake down for most riders. But being the bridesmaid to faster sprinters is perhaps starting to irritate him.
"Did you not see that I finished second?" he replied bluntly to the journalists who asked him about the day's racing.
Sagan tried everything he could to win the stage. He knew the roller coaster finale because he won the same stage finish in last year's Tour of Oman. Then he powered across to some late attackers, blew past them and won alone. This year he had the form and power to go after Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) but a stiff headwind and a lack of co-operation in the final kilometres meant they were caught by the peloton.
Greipel was dragged to the front by his Lotto Belisol teammates to contest the sprint and Sagan found a second wind to try to beat him. He failed by several bike lengths but beat Nacer Bouhanni (Fdj.Fr) and Ben Swift (Team Sky) to take second place. It was an impressive second after going with the late move.
"There was a strong head wind on the climb and so it was pretty hard to get away but it was easier if you were on the wheel," Sagan said.
"We got away with a few others but Greipel managed to stay in the peloton, and it was a good finish for him. I tried to go with the move and I tried in the sprint. But there was not much I could do when he back up to the front."
With two days for the climbers and big-name Grand Tour contenders, Sagan will probably have to wait for his next chance at victory until Sunday's sixth and final stage that finishes on the Muscat Matrah Corniche.