Thursday 18 January 2018

Sagan sprints to third consecutive world title

Peter Sagan (centre) celebrates his Road World Championships victory with silver medalist Alexander Kristoff (left) of Norway and bronze medalist from Australia Michael Matthews. Photo: Reuters
Peter Sagan (centre) celebrates his Road World Championships victory with silver medalist Alexander Kristoff (left) of Norway and bronze medalist from Australia Michael Matthews. Photo: Reuters

Gerard Cromwell

Peter Sagan created history at the world road race championships in Norway yesterday when the Slovakian took a record third consecutive title in the men's elite race in Bergen.

In the only race of the week-long World Championships to come down to a large bunch sprint, Sagan did what he does best and only put his nose in front in the last 200 metres, edging home town favourite Alexander Kristoff into silver in a photo finish, with Australia's Michael Matthews taking bronze.

The 277km long, six-and-a-half hour epic saw Irish riders Conor Dunne and Sean McKenna to the fore for much of the day, the duo escaping with seven others for over 180km, an experience Dubliner McKenna won't forget in a hurry.

"My dad was on the cobbled climb and I could see him smiling every time I went past," he said afterwards. "You've no idea how many races he brought me to where I finished last in every one, so to be in the break in the World Championships was unbelievable, one of the best days of my life. I only finished college last year so this is all new to me and having Conor up there with me today was brilliant."

Attrition

Despite building a maximum lead of almost ten minutes on the peloton, the war of attrition that is the elite road race eventually took its toll and all nine leaders were reeled in with around 90km to go.

Numerous attacks followed but none looked like sticking until Julian Allaphilippe of France surged clear on Salmon Hill with around 10km to go.

Behind the Frenchman, Nicolas Roche was caught behind a crash at the back of the peloton, leaving Dan Martin the sole Irish representative in the chase group.

With Belarus strongman Vasil Kiryienka and Giro d'Italia opening stage winner Lukas Postlberger (Austria) closing in on the two leaders though, Alaphilippe attacked again with five kilometres to go but it was Dane Soren Kragh Andersen who dangled a few seconds clear of a 25-man group at the kilometre-to-go kite.

With Italy leading the chase for their sprinter and four-time stage winner at the recent Vuelta a Espana, Matteo Trentin, Andersen was reeled in with 500 metres to go, and the stage was set for a bunch sprint finish.

Kristoff launched his bid to win the world title on home soil with 200 metres to go but Sagan spoiled the party by popping off his wheel and edging the Norwegian on the line.

"He is racing at home, and I'm sorry for that," said Sagan afterwards.

"But I'm happy to win again. It's unbelievable for me. It's something special for sure. On the climb we were already in three pieces or more. The guys from the back, they caught us, and in the front, there was a breakaway. I thought it was done. I thought it was gone.

"After that it came together in just seconds. You can't predict it. I'm very happy, I have to say thank you for all my team-mates in the national team and for some friends in the group - I still have some friends in the group."

Sagan went on to dedicate his victory to former Astana pro Michele Scarponi who was killed while training earlier in the year.

"I want to dedicate this to Michele Scarponi, because he would have had a birthday tomorrow. It was a very sad story this year. Second, I want to dedicate this victory to my wife, we are expecting a baby. It's a very nice end of the season, and I'm very happy."

Dan Martin was best placed of the Irish, crossing the line at the back of the lead group in 26th place while Nicolas Roche was 34th and Ryan Mullen 127th.

"The last 5km, I couldn't even move from the back of the group," admitted Martin. "My legs were like jelly and then, in the sprint, my legs were so bad I was happy to just get across the line.

"But I was only diagnosed with a broken back eight weeks ago so to just to get to the start line today is an achievement.

"To get to the finish in the front group is a big surprise."

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