World Championships: Peter Sagan claims second world title in 'lottery' sprint

Popular victory doesn't ease heat controversy in Doha

Peter Sagan is in his rainbow jersey again and all is right with the World Championships? Not by a long shot, but after a week where the indelible images were of young men and women stricken by the effects of racing in extreme heat, or of a finishing circuit eerily bereft of spectators, the UCI will feel they caught a break when the cycling's most marketable athlete won its showpiece event in Doha.

A reporter summarised the situation neatly with the first question in Sagan's press conference as a two-time world champion. "There was a week full of discussion. Now you win and everybody's happy. Explain that," he said.

"Everybody's happy again, yeah?" Sagan said, milking the moment for humour in the manner of Usain Bolt, his equivalent in the world of athletics. "I'm very happy too."

Winner of Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, three stages of the Tour de France, the green jersey, the European Championships and now another world title, there can be no doubt but that Sagan has shaken off the fear of events that so plagued him during his final season at Cannondale and much of his debut campaign with Tinkoff.

During his string of near misses on the big stage between 2013 and 2015, it often seemed as though the Slovakian suffered from a surfeit of options, almost always reaching for the wrong one at the pivotal moment. Since the Worlds in Richmond a year ago, he has seemed incapable of making any wrong decisions.

Only 26 riders were still in contention by the time the race hit the finishing circuit on Doha's Pearl, but with fast men such as Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) and Alexander Kristoff (Norway) among their number, one might have expected Sagan to look to shake them loose in the final laps.

Instead, Sagan opted to place his trust in what he described as a lottery of a sprint. And, as has been the case all year long, his numbers came up once again. He sprinted down the right-hand side of the road and found a clear lane; Cavendish went to the left and ended up taking the longer way around. Another rainbow jersey for Sagan, a frustrating silver for Cavendish.

"In the end, I said we'd go for the sprint and it was a lottery for sure. I started sprinting on the right side and I was lucky they didn't close me on the right side. It was a lot of good luck for me, I think maybe destiny. It doesn't happen every day that you can sprint like this," Sagan said.

"You never know what's going to happen in a sprint, especially one like this with a lot of sprinters in the group. What wheel are you going to choose? It's always a lottery, something can happen, so you just go to do your best. I had nothing to lose."

Sagan insisted that he had been fortunate, too, to make the decisive split of the race with some 178 kilometres remaining, when the Belgian squad needed only the merest puff of wind to break the peloton into echelons during the exposed opening section in the desert. The highly-fancied German squad missed the bus, as did France's leaders, but all of the other favourites were present and correct. "I was very happy because I was the last guy to get into the group and that was the first victory of the day," Sagan said.

In modern era at least, the principal selection at a World Championships road race has rarely if ever been forced so early, but the gripping urgency of the opening 150 kilometres were followed by rather cagier fare on the seven laps of the finishing circuit on the Pearl. Save for a late, late Tom Leezer (Netherlands) attack, the race never looked like finishing in anything other than a sprint.

"I still had one teammate, [Michal] Kolar, Mark Cavendish had Adam Blythe, Norway had three, Italy had four… They were all interested in a sprint," Sagan said. "I thought to myself it would be stupid to attack and I decided to go for the sprint. If I was first, second or tenth it didn't matter, I had nothing to lose. It just happens. It's very strange but I'm very happy."

Sagan opted to train in Moncao to avoid Doha heat ahead of Worlds

Received wisdom said that riders would need the bones of a week in Qatar in order to acclimatise to the soaring temperatures. Some, including Alexander Kristoff, had been in Doha for closer to two. In the end, Sagan, who arrived latest of all, on Thursday, somehow rode off with the spoils, having trained near his home in Monaco ahead of the race.

"Sure, it's hot here, but that's hard, and where do you go to train? So I said I would prepare at home in Monaco, where the weather was still good. If you train here for five or six hours, you'd just finish yourself I think," Sagan said. "I slept all day the first day I arrived here, then I did three hours and I thought it was too much. I did just an hour yesterday because today was the big day.

"We finished a lot of bottles today, I was always putting water on me, but you were able to stay cooler on the wheels. It was easier if you didn't have to work. But in the end I don't think anybody had too much energy left. Everybody suffered in the heat."

Everyone, it seems, bar Sagan, who has won with a remarkable degree of facility at times this season. "Victory can never be easy," he insisted on Sunday, though he acknowledged that his run of success this year meant that he could approach this race unfettered by pressure. "Why do I have to have pressure? I did already a lot this year and that's it. I knew I could just earn here, not lose."

Speaking of earning, Sagan will race next season for a new team, Bora-Hansgrohe, though his entourage and his wardrobe options will remain unchanged." For sure the colour of the jersey will be the same," he said, pointing to his rainbow bands. "It's a new team but I'm still staying in the same sport."

At times, it can seem like a sport of his own.

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