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Echelons during Tour de France 2019

Finding Peter Sagan's Nemesis

Peter Sagan is without a doubt THE most exciting rider of his generation. With his trademark dominant racing style he took the peloton by storm and built an impressive list of more than 120 professional victories. But even the mighty Slovakian experienced some serious defeats. Let's find out who took the biggest bite out of his palmares.

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In my quest to find Peter Sagan's nemesis I looked at all the races he finished 2nd after a man-to-man battle. I ranked his opponents based on a combination of the number of defeats and the importance of the race.

4. Marcel Kittel

The award for the rider who beat Peter Sagan the most goes to... Marcel Kittel. Although the Slovakian won a record of 7 green jerseys (and 12 stages), the pure sprinters always had an edge in these boring flat Tour de France stages. Between 2013 and 2017, Marcel Kittel was without a doubt THE best sprinter of the peloton winning 14 Tour de France stages in that very same period.

The German powerhouse beat Sagan a record 9 times. The most noticeable wins are 2 Tour de France stages, 1 Vuelta stage, and 2 stages of Tirreno-Adriatico; but these are hardly a small dent in Peter Sagan's huge palmares.

3. André Greipel

We stay in Germany; the country with a tradition of producing world-class sprinters. When it comes to absolute numbers, André Greipel is without a doubt one of the top dogs of the last 2 decades with over 150 professional wins. Seasons with 20 victories or more were no exception. The German ended his career with 11 Tour de France stages, 7 Giro stages, and 4 Vuelta stages under his belt

Peter Sagan bit the dust against André Greipel 7 times, which cost him 5 Tour de France stages. Although Sagan is not short of Tour stage wins, I'm sure he'd be happy to exchange a decent amount of smaller wins for these 5 lost occasions.

2. Michal Kwiatkowski

There are plenty of reasons to call Michal Kwiatkowski the Polish Peter Sagan: same age, super talent, turned pro at a very young age, sometimes simply unbeatable and without a doubt more versatile than his Slovakian brother. Although he seems to have settled for a role as shadow leader/master domestique at Ineos Grenadiers for the last couple of years, one should not forget Michal's career achievements: World Champion, Milano-Sanremo, double Strade Bianche winner, Clasica San Sebastian, E3 Harelbeke and numerous podiums in other classics and major stage races.

Only 3 times Kwiatkowski was the better of Sagan. But he "chose" the occasions wisely. Not only were these 3 career-defining moments for Kwiatek, but 2 of them also caused blind spots in Peto's palmares.

The biggest upset Kwiatkowski caused in the 2017 Milano-Sanremo. Milano-Sanremo, the race that is tailor-made for the Slovakian, the race that he could/should have won multiple times but was never able to. Although intrinsically slower than Sagan, Michal Kwiatkowski managed to win the Italian monument thanks to a combination of great legs and a very clever sprint.

Strade Bianche 2014. Looking back now, Peter Sagan should perhaps regret "handing" the 2013 victory to his teammate Moreno Moser. 2014 was the last time he was really in contention for the win, but on the Via Santa Caterina he could only acknowledge the superiority of the Pole.

In the 2016 E3 Harelbeke former winner Peter Sagan bonked in a similar way. Surprisingly having run out of legs, he failed to respond to the long sprint of Michal Kwiatkowski. However, Peter did compensate big for this defeat by winning Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders the following days.

1. Greg Van Avermaet

But who would deserve the honorary title of Sagan's nemesis more than Greg Van Avermaet, the 2016 Rio Olympic Champion and 2017 Paris-Roubaix winner. The Belgian reached his peak as a rider between 2015 and 2018, which is the same period when we saw the best Peter Sagan. As they both targeted pretty much the same races, one's win basically meant the other one's loss. Still, both riders had their own strengths: Sagan being more explosive and able to win bunch sprints. Van Avermaet, tough as nails, honed his 45-second uphill sprint at the end of hard, hilly races to perfection. A weapon that caused serious damage to the Slovakian.

Van Avermaet managed to beat Sagan 7 times in a man-to-man battle (only 2nd to Marcel Kittel) and he did this in the most prestigious races on the calendar (as did Michal Kwiatkowski). Let's revisit these battles in chronological order (thank you, Youtube!)

Stage 3 of the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico, finish in Arezzo:

Stage 13 of the 2015 Tour de France, finish in Rodez, is IMO THE race where Greg Van Avermaet entered the category of the best riders of his generation.

Greg had been criticized a lot in his early years as a pro for burning his matches too soon and not making great tactical choices. But the lethal uphill sprint he developed allowed him to adopt another tactical game plan: although he did remain generous in his efforts in breakaways, he realized he always had one of the most effective finishes of the peloton.

The Rodez stage is one of the most thrilling sprints I've ever seen: Van Avermaet already gapping the peloton at a suicidal 350m to go, Sagan bridging up to Greg, taking a few deep breaths in the Belgian's wheel, making ready to blow past him. Any other guy leading at that point would be crushed, but Van Avermaet kept digging, withstood, and took his first Tour de France stage win after a seemingly eternal effort.

2016 started perfectly for Van Avermaet, beating Peter Sagan at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Something he repeated at Tirreno-Adriatico where he took the 6th stage in Cepagatti. Due to the cancellation of the mountains stage, the guys that dominated the puncheur stages ( Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and Zdenek Stybar) suddenly had the unique opportunity to win one of the major one-week stage races of the season. The traditional time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto became a true nail-biter with none of the 3 candidates being a TT specialist. Eventually, Van Avermaet won the GC by 1 second(!) ahead of Sagan.

GP Montreal 2016, which Greg won again in 2019; while Peter already crossed the line first in 2014.

The 2017 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the edition where Peter Sagan ripped the race apart like a madman. Both Sep Vanmarcke and Greg Van Avermaet had to give it all to keep up with the pace of the world champion on the hills of the Flemish Ardennes. The race ended with a 3-man sprint between these classics specialist. Notice the similarities with the year before.

Despite the defeats shown above, Peter Sagan has a crazy number of big wins. Which one did you enjoy most? Please leave a comment below!

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