9/5/2013 - NEWS!

Sagan continues domination in stage 1 of Tour of Alberta

September 4, Stage 1: Strathcona County - Camrose 158.1km

Cannondale rider unbeatable in first road stage

After just two days at the Tour of Alberta, Peter Sagan is making winning look easy. The 23-year-old Slovakian national champion took his second win in as many days Wednesday in Camrose after his Cannondale team chased down a breakaway of four riders and caught them on the second of three finishing circuits.

"Today my team did a very, very good job because today was all day on the front," Sagan said. "And also from the start there were attacks and we put only four riders in the breakaway. Then we were always on the front for the pulling."

Optum-Kelly Benefits' Eric Young jumped early on a slight rise before the finish and got a gap, but Sagan waited patiently and passed him well before the line. Young held on for the second spot, with Moreno Hofland (Belkin) in third.

"Eric started too early," Sagan said. "I saw this, but the sprint was into a headwind, so we hurt a lot, and he started I think too early and it was better for me."

Young was actually trying to lead out teammate Ryan Anderson, who finished second to Sagan during the last stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. But when Young opened up a gap, he pressed for the finish on his own.

"I had Ryan on my wheel, and I just kind of went," Young said. "When I looked back there was a bit of a gap, so I just put my head down and hoped for the best. Sagan was fast enough out of the group to catch me at the end right before the line. Obviously I wish I could have held on, but that was a tough little hill at the end of this race. I gave it my best shot."

Anderson ended up finishing fourth, just behind Belkin sprinter Moreno Hofland, who said he was well positioned on Sagan's wheel through the final corner but got bumped off.

"I was in the 12th spot in the corner, and [Sagan] moved up a little bit and I was on his wheel," Hofland said. "But some guy grabbed the wheel and he left a little hole to Sagan, and I couldn't follow him anymore. So I sprinted to [Optum's Anderson], but [Young] was too far away."

Sagan's win and the subsequent time bonus added another 10 seconds to his lead over the other general classification hopefuls, while he also claimed the jerseys for the best young rider and the sprint competition. He trails Belkin's Tom Jelte Slagter by one point in the mountains classification.

How it happened

Stage 1 started in the Strathcona County suburbs just east of Edmonton after a neutral parade around Sherwood Park. The race headed north for a pass through the city of Fort Saskatchewan before turning south to Ardrossan and the scenic lake district. When the race reached Camrose at 146km, the peloton negotiated three laps of the 4km eight-corner finishing circuit for the first bunch sprint of the week.

Aside from stage win glory, time bonuses at the intermediate sprints and at the finish were the main prize of the day. Intermediate sprints with bonuses of three, two and one second for were up for grabs at the first sprint of the day in Ft. Saskatchewan, just 27km into the 158km stage. The second sprint followed 33km later in Ardrossan.

Despite a flurry of early attacks, the bunch rolled together into Ft. Saskatchewan for the day's first sprint, where Argos-Shimano's Simon Geschke took the maximum time bonus head of Jelly Belly's Jeremy Powers and Argos' Patrick Grestch.

With the first sprint out of the way, the attacks started up again. This time Bissell's Jeremy Vennell peeled away from the bunch and was soon joined by Powers, Belkin's Marc Goos and Argos rider William Clarke.

"The start was just so fast that making the break was tough," Vennell said. "So I waited until it eased up a bit and then went. I was hoping someone would come across, and luckily one guy came and then two more came up to make four of us. Maybe a few more would have been nice."

The quartet had a gap of just over two minutes as they reached the second intermediate sprint in Ardrossan, and with Vennell starting the day 50 seconds down on Sagan in the overall battle, he was briefly the virtual leader on the road.

Clarke took the second intermediate sprint, followed by Goos and Powers, and the quartet of escapees held a consistent two minute gap with about 70km remaining. The gap hovered there until the 50km-to-go mark, when Cannondale started whittling away at the advantage. With 42km to go the gap was down to just 1:40. Twenty-five kilometers later, that gap was down to 1:05, but the leaders still held out hope that if they hit the circuits with enough of a lead, one of them could sneak away with the win.

"The goal was to get to the circuits and try to finish it off, because you never know what can happen," Powers said. "Every time we turned we thought it was finally going to be a little bit of tailwind and we'd get a little bit of a reprieve. But every single time we turned there was wind from another direction. It felt like it never stopped. So that makes for a very hard day with four riders. I don't know what it was like in the back, but up front we were all leaking oil, if you will."

The bunch had pared the leaders' advantage down to just 45 seconds as they started the first of the three circuits. Clarke attacked the breakaway but couldn't shed Goos, and the two groups of two riders each dangled just off the front of the peloton as they started the penultimate lap.

The field made the catch with just over one to go, and the bunch sprint looked inevitable. Garmin Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal, wearing the jersey for best Canadian, attacked before the field came through to get the final bell. But Hesjedal was apparently confused about the lap count and posted a salute as he crossed the line, only to be swallowed by the hard-charging field.

"It was in our head that there were three laps, but that was a pretty intense circuit so you couldn't look at the lap counter or anything," Hesjedal explained. "I was just in the zone and the kilometers seemed right on the speedo and that was it.

"Sometimes you can tell a little bit, and going in that time it felt like were racing to the finish," Hesjedal continued. "Then after a little bit I realized it was too good to be true, but I was kind of half-committed to saluting because I wasn't too sure what just happened. I can't say I've done that before. So there's a first time for everything."

Unlike Hesjedal's gaffe, Sagan's winning performance was definitely not a first. He's wracked up 20 wins this season, and he obviously wants to add a few more. Asked how many of the cowboy hats that are given to each stage winner he'd like to win at the Alberta race, he thought for a second and said "one for every rider on the team, so six of them."

The six-day Tour of Alberta continues Thursday with a 175km route from Devon to Red Deer, another stage that looks tailor made for the Slovakian fast man.

Cannondale's Peter Sagan wins with ease
Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

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