In the absence of live television pictures in the closing kilometres of the World Championships road race, reporters had a simple question for Peter Sagan after he had pulled on the rainbow jersey for the third successive year – what happened?
"I don't know, maybe it's karma that I won," Sagan shrugged in the immediate aftermath of the race in Bergen on Sunday afternoon. Speaking at a press conference in Lienz, Austria on Tuesday morning, however, he was a little more expansive as he described the breathless finale to the Worlds.
Sagan had scarcely been seen near the front of the race all day, and was a long way back when Julian Alaphilippe (France) launched what had looked like the winning move atop the final ascent of Salmon Hill. The Slovakian bided his time, however, and come the final kilometre, found himself in a leading group of 26 sprinting for the world title.
"What happened? I won the World Championships…" Sagan said on Tuesday. "It was a very unpredictable race, I think, the parcours and the style that we raced. Until the last moment, we didn't know if we were going for the sprint or if the breakaway would go to the finish. From that point of view, it was very hard to predict the style of the race and how it was going to be.
"In the end, after the last climb, I always tried to be in the small bunch behind the front guys, [Julian] Alaphilippe and [Gianni] Moscon. My feeling was 'ah, this year is not for me' because Alaphilippe had a very nice gap and it was going to be very hard to catch him. But in the end, the group tried to move a little bit. I tried to go also in the breakaway but everybody sat on the wheel. After Gaviria attacked, he caught Alaphilippe and after we came from the back and in the end, it was a sprint."
In 2015 in Richmond, Sagan was the strongest rider by some distance and won with a solo attack on the final lap. A year ago in Doha, he was present at the front at all of the crucial moments, and then delivered a pitch perfect sprint to beat Mark Cavendish (Great Britain). This time around, Sagan emerged from the tumult in the finishing straight to overhaul home favourite Alexander Kristoff and beat him with a well-timed dive for the line.
Sagan became the first rider to win the elite men's world title three times in a row, and he placed each of those three victories – on three different continents – on an equal pegging.
"Every World Championships that I won was special," he said. "They're different: different parcours, different city, different style of race, but the title is always the same and every moment from each race is really special."
Sagan is in Austria to promote a new mountain bike trail at Hochstein, and he was asked to assess his prospects of retaining his rainbow jersey at the 2018 Worlds in nearby Innsbruck. "Let me enjoy this title, I don't want to think about next year," said Sagan, who also batted away a question about his Classics priorities in 2018.
Sagan intimated that he will not race competitively again this season. "I'm going home and I'll try to enjoy being at home a little bit, because during the season you're always travelling and never at home long," he said.