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Sagan edges closer to first pro win

Liquigas-Doimo's Peter Sagan has continued his phenomenal introduction to the ProTour ranks with a second place finish behind William Bonnet (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) on the second stage of Paris-Nice, from Contre to Limoges.

Riding in just his second world calendar event, the 20-year-old Slovakian has already proven that he can ride fast in circuits, strongly in the hills, efficiently in time trial and be competitive in bunch sprints as well.

At the Santos Tour Down Under earlier this year, his ProTour debut, he accompanied Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) and Oscar Pereiro (Astana) in a breakaway during the Cancel Council Classic on the streets of Adelaide.

Later that week he positioned himself for a fourth place finish at the end of stage three in Stirling, behind Manuel Cardoso (Footon-Servetto), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team).

Then, on the penultimate and hardest stage of the Australian race, he rode Armstrong off his wheel at Willunga Hill and took fifth place behind Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Luke Roberts (Milram), Valverde and Evans.

Sagan has continued in a similar ilk this week at Paris-Nice. He finished fifth in the prologue and second on stage two, where he was narrowly out-sprinted by Bonnet on Tuesday afternoon. Despite missing the opportunity to emulate Liquigas teammate Franco Pellizotti's win in Limoges three years earlier, Sagan said he was happy with his performance.

"I’m happy with my level of racing here," the young Slovakian told Cyclingnews in the capital of the French porcelain. "I was particularly satisfied with my time in the prologue. It reminded me my good old days as a junior when we were often exposed to racing against the clock."

The versatile Sagan was exceptionally successful across a variety of disciplines during the 2008 Junior World Championship season. That year, he claimed the rainbow jersey for cross-country mountain biking, was second at the cyclo-cross championships and fourth at the equivalent road race. Despite this all-round pedigree, Sagan was not exactly known as a sprinter until the finish in Limoges.

"When my legs are good, I can sprint pretty well," he said. "Today I’m disappointed that I’ve missed my first pro win by only five centimetres. When I saw that there was nobody in front of me and the finishing line was just ahead, I gave everything starting from a long way out."

"It was close," emphasised Sagan's directeur sportif Mario Scirea. "It wasn’t a traditional bunch sprint. The last two kilometres were very special. Sagan’s role was to keep Francesco Chicchi towards the front, and then he happened to be out there alone. We aren’t surprised by what he does. We've known since the Tour Down Under what he’s able to do on a bike."

Despite having great form, Sagan doesn’t place his first pro win as the priority this week. "I’m here to help Roman Kreuziger to win Paris-Nice," he explained. Sagan has followed a similar path to that of his 'cultural neighbour' Kreuziger, the Czech rider having claimed his first significant result as a pro in Paris-Nice three years ago, also at the age of 20.

Kreuziger currently lies in fifth place overall, 15 seconds behind Lars Boom (Rabobank). The Dutchman's hold on the leader's jersey has seen Kreuziger wear the white jersey through the opening stages. However, the 23-year-old Liquigas rider will hope to trade up to yellow later this week.

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