Young Slovakian star Sagan celebrates 20th birthday

Peter Sagan turned many heads during his debut racing Down Under with his new professional Team Liquigas-Doimo over the past week. The young Slovakian star, a former mountain bike World Champion, is in his second year as a road racing professional and will turn 20 years old on Tuesday.

On Sunday, he finished 29th overall and as sixth best young (under 26) rider at the Tour Down Under, scoring several top stage placings including a fourth in stage 3 and fifth in stage 5, when he was part of a four-man break with Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde and eventual stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez (both Caisse d'Epargne). He was also 11th in stage 6.

After hearing words of praise for his performance from his Liquigas team's management, Sagan said, according to, "Those (words) are good for the soul. Supposedly it was not expected that I would be mixing it up at the head of the peloton."

Sagan might have finished even higher overall at the Tour Down Under if he hadn't been involved in a crash on stage 2 and ended up with 18 stitches. According to, his Liquigas-Doimo teammates nicknamed him "Rambo" after the incident. They were impressed by his perseverance.

"I'm happy with my debut," said Sagan to, " especially with such big stars competing like (Lance) Armstrong, (Alejandro) Valverde, (Cadel) Evans, (Andre) Greipel, (Luis Leon) Sanchez, (Greg) Henderson and other chaps. I would have been in the top 20 if I hadn't suffered damage from the fall on the second stage."

Just prior to the Tour Down Under, at the Cancer Council Classic on January 17, Sagan made a break with Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack) and Oscar Pereiro (Astana), Mathieu Perget (Caisse d'Epargne) and Mikael Cherel (Française des Jeux). Armstrong noted the young Sagan's talent although when calling attention to it, he mistook Sagan's nationality for Slovenian instead of Slovakian.

It's Sagan's second year focusing his attention on the road. In 2009, he raced for 2009 Dukla Merida Trencin, and he took three top three places in stages at the Giro de Friuli Venezia Giulia. He also won the GP Kooperativa and took first in two stages and seventh overall at the Wyscig Dookola Mazowska.

Sagan's strength is versatile - he has excelled across disciplines. In 2008, he was the junior cross country mountain bike World Champion, and in 2007, he won his nation's junior cyclo-cross national championships.

After the Tour Down Under, Sagan is the top-ranked Slovakian in the UCI's World Rankings.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.