Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sagan the Żagań

Nowadays, few riders make news the same way Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) does, that is by not winning a race or a stage. So complete is Sagan's domination of stage-hunting in short stage races from the Tour de Suisse, Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico, to the Tour of California and the Tour of Poland.
Given his punchy characteristics, and his performance in the last edition of Milano-Sanremo, is Sagan a credible classics contender?
From Brendan Ryan, shared under CC BY-BC-SA 2.0

Our answer is YES, but 2012 won't be his breakthrough year yet.

A punchy sprinter who can keep up with many climbers, Sagan is a threat that is very hard to neutralize.

However, most all his wins so far share the same characteristic: they are short races or stages of a short stage race. To quote the great late Laurent Fignon, there is a big difference between winning a race that is under 200km to winning a classic that is almost always significantly longer.

That said, we were thrilled to see his performance in Milano-Sanremo this past year. The longest of the classics, Milan-Sanremo truly argued that Sagan will someday be a true classics contender.

Finally, as history geeks we need to point out the story behind the name Żagań. In addition to being the name of a city in the western side of Poland, it is also name of a Ducal title that is honored both in the Kingdom of Prussia and the French Second Empire. The Duchy of Sagan was a significant fiefdom in the middle ages up to the renaissance era. For some time it was put under ownership of Albrecht von Wallenstein, the Protestant general who led the Catholic Habsburg army against Protestant rivals. Von Wallenstein even hosted the famous polymath Johannes Kepler in Sagan.

It is the Duchy's dual status that led to its important role during WW2. The Duke of Sagan was also owner of the Château de Valençay in Loire Valley, just south of the Cher river which was the border between occupied France and Vichy France. Along with several castles in the vicinity, it provided temporary housing for the treasures of the Louvre which were evacuated when Paris fell, thanks to the effort of young assistant curator of the Louvre at the time, Gerald Van der Kemp. As Van der Kemp fled Paris, he brought many treasures with him - including the Mona Lisa - to Valencay. Unfortunately, the German occupying troops didn't shy from crossing over in their chase of French Résistants. On one occasion, German soldiers forced all workers out of the chateau and nearly burned the building down. Only Van der Kemp's forceful argument, citing the chateau's Prussian history and potential wrath of both Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, convinced the troop commander to free the workers and rescue the chateau.

How do you think will Sagan develop? Will he excel in Milan-Sanremo? What about the cobbled classics and the Ardennes classics? Share your thoughts below.

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