It all came down to this. After a season of hard racing came one of the most important races of the year, where countries would fight it out among themselves to decide who would wear the coveted stripes of the UCI World Champion. Having worn the jersey for the past two years, it looked as though Peter Sagan might have to relinquish his grip on the Rainbow Stripes, with a break leading to the final kilometre. As the last few bends came into view though, the Slovak rider found himself in the perfect position to take his record-breaking third UCI World Championship, confirming his status as a cycling legend.
BORA-hansgrohe riders were representing seven countries today, on the only occasion this season where the team would not be riding a road race in their familiar black, white and teal colours. Today, they were riding for national pride and the chance to wear the coveted Rainbow Jersey of UCI World Champion. The largest representation was for Slovakia, with Peter and Juraj Sagan riding with Baška and Kolar, with the next biggest being the Polish contingent, Bodnar and Poljanski. McCarthy, Burghardt, Bárta, Pöstlberger and Saramontins represented Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and Latvia respectively.
The course was one for the all-rounders, with an undulating profile throughout, which featured some tough climbs and fast descents. The race would start with a 39.5km route to a finishing circuit ridden twelve times around the city of Bergen. The biggest climb of the day – Salmon Hill – would be repeated twelve times, sapping energy on the way up and testing bike handling on the descent. While a relatively gentle 6.4% average, the multiple ascents and descents would tax every rider on the course – especially as more of the total 267.5km distance was covered.
As one would expect with such a prestigious prize at stake, the attacks came from the very start of the day. With some countries represented by only one rider, tactics would play a pivotal role in their race, and so this group of ten was a mix of the bigger teams and the smaller players. This group managed to draw out a lead of ten minutes on the peloton, but there was still a lot of racing to go. As the remaining kilometres dropped, so too did the advantage – and with 100km to go, the peloton was dangerously close to touching distance. The race still had 76km to go when the final member of the break was swept up – and this was when the fireworks really started, with so far still to go before the finish, further attacks came thick and fast.
A small break managed to gain a lead on the peloton, and it was clear that the race was really starting to open up, the bunch clearly working to make sure this escape didn’t gain too much time, the gap rising and falling, but never breaking a minute. The efforts of this group weren’t to last, and with just 25km remaining, it was again all back together. The size of the peloton – more than sixty riders – made sure they had the strength to reel in any attacks, and with one lap ahead of them, no single rider had staked their claim on the race. Back in the bunch, Peter and his BORA-hansgrohe teammates had kept a low profile – a sure sign of riders conserving energy for the fight still to come.
The bell being rung for the final lap saw the peloton injected with a surge of pace. While the race was all together, there was clear jostling for position on the front as the final climb of Salmon Hill loomed, where, to be in contention in the finale, riders would have to be in a good position on the descent. 10km to go and a final attack left the bunch struggling to keep up, stretching them to the limit, but with only ten seconds between them and the break, it looked as though this slim advantage might still be enough. Hitting the flame rouge for the final kilometre and rounding the final bends, the peloton was on the wheels of the break, and the reigning UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan was only a few positions back. The finish line in sight, Peter surged ahead, throwing his bike at the line in the sprint to take the ‘Three-Peter’ – three consecutive World Championship wins – his position as a living legend in the world of cycling beyond question.
The finale was close for so many reasons, and Peter was quick to confirm that it was a tough finish. “It wasn’t easy! The last 5km, I said to myself it was already done – it’s gone. Then it changed in the front, then I tried to go in the breakaway, and then Gaviria tried to close the gap after which we managed to get it all back together for a sprint. It’s unbelievable. I’m sorry for Kristoff – he’s racing at home after all – but I’m very happy to win again. Three UCI World Championships – it’s special for sure. It doesn’t change anything, but it’s really special.”
“It’s hard to say before a race what will happen. You saw in the climb we were already splitting into two or three pieces. We were being caught from behind and then there was a break in the front, but I was lucky to come into the finish where I did – you can’t predict it – if somebody is stronger in the front, they can easily take the win.”
As always, Peter was quick to thank the people who got him to this win, but also took time to remember a respected rider. “I’d like to thank my national team – Slovakia – and my friends in the group. I want to dedicate my victory to Michele Scarponi – it would have been his birthday tomorrow. It was a sad thing to have happened this year – my best wishes to all his family. I also dedicate this victory to my wife – we’re expecting a baby, and this is a fantastic end to the season. I’m very happy.”
BORA-hansgrohe’s Team Manager, Ralph Denk, was thrilled that the Rainbow Jersey would bear the team’s name and sponsor for next season. “Congratulations to Peter and the BORA-hansgrohe riders of the Slovak team for this extraordinary victory. I think we did a lot of things the right way during our first year as a WorldTour Team and this result proves it. Peter was in very good form throughout the season but the results weren’t always what we would have liked because, I think, at times luck wasn’t on our side. However, Peter’s legendary third consecutive world championship title turned our season from good to fantastic.”
On Tuesday, September 26th, Peter Sagan will make his first official appearance in Austria as the freshly-crowned three-time world champion. Peter will hold a press conference at the Grand Hotel in Lienz, Osttirol. For further informations contact the BORA-hansgrohe press office at firstname.lastname@example.org