just how good can Peter Sagan get?

you know you’re half-decent when an in-form Philippe Gilbert has you down as the hot favorite for a race that is almost made for the world champion, one he won in 2010 and 2011, not to mention the win that brought him the Rainbow Jersey that was held in the Ardennes and saw him launch to victory on the very hill that Amstel finishes on, the Cauberg.

Gilbert winning Amstel... oh wait! is that... crankpunk?! whoop!
Gilbert winning Amstel… oh wait! is that… crankpunk?! whoop!

“He is the favourite, there is no question about that,” Gilbert said earlier this week, speaking of the ButtPincher. “But like I said, we all come to win, every team comes to win. Every team tries to beat the favourite.

“This year this is Sagan. I am not sure if he can win…if he can win, this would be very nice for him as winning as the favourite is always something very special. But I hope we can beat him.”

Sagan is fast becoming the most talked about cyclist in the pro peloton, even if it was Fabian that stole the show, and quite rightly, at Flanders and Roubaix in the past two weeks. the Big Holy Cheese is, despite what some of the eejits on the random forums would have you believe, no one-trick pony but, in comparison to the young Slovak, his tool box is a lot less adaptable.

but then, so is every other rider of the past 25 years.

the kid's a killer
the kid’s a killer

Sagan can sprint, especially uphill. he can climb (he was Junior MTB World Champ) and is getting better in the high mountains, as displayed at last year’s Tour, when he had a breakaway of climbers looking over their shoulders incredulously as he fought his way up to them. he moves through a crowded peloton with a guile and style i’ve never seen before (i witnessed it firsthand in the Tour of Oman and also Qatar in 2012), and his descending – well, it’s like rainwater flowing over a rock face.

love him or loathe him, you have to admit that he is mesmerising. have we seen his like in the past 25 years?

Contador may well be one of the greatest Grand Tour riders ever but as a specialist he is no equal to the great riders of old who did it all, won the Tour and then Roubaix, or San Remo, or the World’s. his shine has been severely tarnished too, not only with the Clenbuterol positive but in the way he handled himself in the wake of the scandal.

Boonen? great, wonderful, brilliant, rides with his testes on his sleeve and a proper dude, but no climbing ability to speak of.

Lance? coulda been something. not 7 Tours something but even without dope maybe, possibly 2 Grand Tours (a Vuelta maybe, possibly a weakened Tour), and some classics, had he bothered. but he crapped that all over the toilet floor and now thank Eddy there is no dispute over that fact.

further back we have Sean Kelly, and now we are getting close. what a palmares:

Vuelta GC ’88

4 Tour Greens

Paris-Nice GC, 7 of the things

San Remo 2

Roubaix 2

Liege 2

Lombardia 3

the only thing missing is a World Champs, though he came very close.

Kelly the Great
Kelly the Great

and then you have Hinault, Fignon and Lemond. the American was not bad at all and had a career blighted by injury, none less devastating than a chest full of buckshot. Fignon was more than handy and also had trouble with injuries, yet his palmares is distinguished with 2 Tours and a Giro, San Remo twice and one Fleche Wallone.

Lemond & Hinault brought us one of the best ever Tours in 1989
Lemond & Hinault brought us one of the best ever Tours in 1989

Hinault is up there with the gods, one of the all time greatest. it’s easier to note what he didn’t win than what he did, he was that good.

Hinault
Hinault

and so back to Sagan. he is very similar in style to Kelly, though if you want to talk about age, he is achieving more at a younger age. and this in a day and age when all riders across the board are at a higher level comparatively to back then, with greater access to proven training and recovery methods.

i am of course getting ahead of myself but then, that’s what we journos do. so far he’s won one Green in the Tour and three stages – in his one and so far only Tour – and Gent-Wevelgem, that are, when considering great wins, worth mentioning. maybe not that stellar on paper, but first off he is only 23, dominated Green in the Tour at 22, has come within whiskers of a Monument win more than once already and is learning all the time, and scares the living bejeezus out of the peloton, a pack full of hardened men who eat kittens for breakfast.

win Amstel today and he gets better, win Liege next week and he has a Monument and a few toes dangling in the box entitled ‘great’. shed that covering of muscle he has and he may well win a Grand Tour.

‘as good as Kelly.’ if after 10 years we are saying that, man what a compliment that will be.

‘as good as Hinault…’ sheesh, will that ever be said again?

Ivan Bassso thinks Sagan can win a Tour (and though it hurts me a little to quote the wrigglin’ Italian, i guess he knows a bike rider when he sees one):

“I have never seen a rider like him. I do not think anyone has. He is the first-of-a-kind rider. You can expect everything because he can win what he wants. Anything. If he wins the Tour de France someday, it will not be a surprise to me. Watch out.”

Sagan has even been compared to God, but he was having none of it, and maybe this is as it should be:

‘I don’t want to be the second Eddy Merckx,’ he said. ‘I want to be the first Peter Sagan.’

whatever you do Pete, don’t take up acting…

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