SAGAN'S LAST STAND
Kaiserjägerstraße, the area where the team vehicles parked, was a hotch-potch of WorldTour colour and white-rental-van anonymity. The Belgian team was serviced by both sides of the country’s Old Firm: a Lotto Soudal bus and a Quick-Step mechanics’ truck. FDJ and Direct Energie supported France. Bora-Hansgrohe sent two buses to Austria, one for Germany and the other for Slovakia. Around and about, recognition of WorldTour team staff and riders took a moment longer, to account for the discombobulating effect of familiar faces in unfamiliar jerseys and polo shirts.
Outside the Slovakians’ bus, with around 90km left to race, six or seven journalists began to loiter, awaiting the imminent arrival of Peter Sagan. The triple world champion had already been pinched out of the leading group and it was a question of when, not if, he would retire. The rest of the Slovakian team, who barely made it onto the circuit, were already in the bus and showered and changed when their captain rolled up and into the space cordoned off in front of the vehicle. This was the final act of Sagan’s unprecedented reign in the men’s world champion’s jersey. Was he sad? He didn’t look it. Disappointed? No, not that either. His mouth curled upwards in a familiar inscrutable smile and he disappeared onto the bus.
The cordon began to bristle with mics and camera phones as more media arrived to catch Sagan’s first reaction. With no appearance from the bus looking imminent, it gave time to admire the crisp mountain ridge that stood out against a flawless blue sky. The ridge and everything below had the immediacy of the foreground in a pop-up book. Innsbruck really had basked in an Indian summer all week.
When Sagan did eventually come over he wore the same mask. Was he surprised he felt that bad, French TV asked. “Oh, not a bad day, bad race for me, ha-ha. It was very difficult; it’s a lot of climbing and I think it’s also good that maybe some climber is going to win today. I’m very proud of my three years in the rainbow jersey. Now is the time to give it to somebody else.” What were his emotions on having finally conceded the jersey? “I was expecting it. I’m not sad, I’m happy.” With that, he turned away. Sagan’s pace through the Mr Men Little Book of Feelings shows little sign of speeding up.
Sagan did have one final part to play and he did end up on the podium in the awards ceremony. While David Lappartient presented the rainbow jersey, Sagan was detailed to hang the gold medal around the neck of his successor. That turned out to be Alejandro Valverde and the scene had a curious air, like the natural order had been momentarily reversed: here was the 28-year-old multiple world champion honouring the 38-yearold-first timer. It was an arresting reminder of one party’s precocity and the other’s supreme longevity. From their brief chat on stage, Valverde reported that “Sagan told me he was really happy about my victory, that if it wasn’t him who stayed in the rainbow jersey, he’d like me to take over as world champion.”