Wind back 12 months and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) was getting increasingly edgy as he continued to notch up top-five finishes at the Tour de France without securing a victory. Fast forward to today's fifth stage and the Slovakian was surprisingly chipper after finishing runner-up to André Greipel for the second time at this year’s Tour.
In 2014, the whole Cannondale team was relying on Sagan to bring in the results. The same could be said of his Classics campaign earlier this season, where, by Paris-Roubaix, he did his best to escape any media obligations.
With team leader Alberto Contador shouldering his fair share of the pressure at the Tour, Sagan has been unburdened. The three-time green-jersey winner seems to be enjoying his role as a protector for his leader, while taking his chances where he can.
Talking to fellow green-jersey winner Robbie McEwen – who is at the Tour for Australian television – in the mixed zone, Sagan was animated as he described the day’s happenings.
“Today was a very dangerous and crazy stage because everybody wants to be on the front with Sky, our team and Movistar, everybody wants to have his leader up there but I’m happy that Alberto didn’t crash today. He came good in the finish,” explained Sagan.
“The team is for Alberto and if I do some sprint then it’s just something more. I’m alone for the final but it’s ok because I don’t have to work for the last five kilometres to protect him. I did second, I think it’s ok. Today I was on the wheel of Greipel but then the group just came from behind and it was a very big mess. I was far back in the last 200 metres.”
The Tour de France is only the second time that Contador and Sagan’s racing programmes have coincided, with Tirreno-Adriatico the only other occasion. Although the stakes were different, Sagan showed that he could position himself perfectly without any assistance from his team when claimed his first victory of the season on the penultimate stage to Porto Sant'Elpidio.
“No stress,” was the laconic reply when he was asked if going it alone at the Tour was a challenge. He added, “If I can do something, I want to do my best in the sprint and I am doing it in the right way and it is good.
“It’s ok, we are in the team, we are one group. We are professional, I am happy for my opportunity and I do my sprint and finish sprint and I am happy for that and it’s ok.”
Thursday’s stage 6 to Le Havre features an uphill finish and is much more suited to Sagan than today’s offering, along with the likes of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Sagan will still have to play the team role earlier in the stage but he will once again be relieved of his duties in the final kilometres.
“We have to protect Alberto but tomorrow we will see how the wind is and how the stage will be and then for sure I want to be on the front, if it is possible to make my sprint in the finish, it can be a good opportunity. We will see.”