In a Tour de France that has thus far been mostly ho-hum because of Team Sky's insipid domination, Peter Sagan, the Liquigas-Cannondale prodigy, has breathed some life into the race. In just his third year in the Pro Tour ranks and his first appearance at the Tour, the 22-year-old has proven himself a force by winning three stages and dominating the points competition. He's shown his versatility in the process, too: He took the Stage 1 win in a powerful, uphill move with Swiss strongman Fabian Cancellara, distanced some of the best sprinters in the peloton in a flat-out dash on Stage 6, and all-but locked up the points competition by instigating an audacious long-distance breakaway on the mountainous Stage 14. If he makes it to Paris—which is almost a foregone conclusion barring disaster—he'll take home the green jersey for most points on his very first try.
From the sound of it, he also stands to drive away from the French capital in a new car thanks to a wager he made with Liquigas president Paolo Zani. We caught up with the Slovak last week to ask him about his staggering season (he picked off five stages and the points classification at the Tour of California this spring and four stages and the points competition at the Tour de Suisse), his Tour domination, and the infamous bet.
With three stages in the Tour de France already, you are making it look easy. Is it?
Absolutely not. This is the Tour and I've already seen how everyone wants to play a part here. The sprints are fast and nervous, even from a long way out. Take Stage 5 [Ed.: Sagan was poised for another win before being taken down in a crash]. Guys want it so bad that they take risks and if you're not lucky you can be taken down!
I've heard that before you turned pro you won the Slovak Cup with a bike borrowed from your sister. Is that true?
It was at the Slovak Cup race. I had sold my bike, since I was expecting one to arrive from my sponsor. But it didn't show up in time, so I had to borrow my sister's bike. It was an aluminum Turbo frame from Mexico. But I won the race anyway.
You are 22 and only in your third season as a pro. Did you imagine you'd be so successful so quickly?
I hoped so, but I wasn't sure it was possible like this. Certainly I'm happy, but I know that I should have plenty of opportunities for success. I'd like to make a long-term impact in cycling. When I'm racing, the objective is always to win. Really I don't think about what I've done, but what I can improve.
You just renewed your contract with Liquigas-Cannondale through 2014. Why?
This is the team that brought me up. They had faith in me and guided me this far [Ed.: Quick Step passed on the chance to hire Sagan in 2009]. It has the best of all the elements I need to be successful: the right philosophy and structure, coaching, staff support and, of course, great bikes. Also, there's a real sense of family within the team.
What is your most memorable win to date?
They're all different. But the World Championship mountain bike win, my first win as a pro with Liquigas at Paris-Nice, and now my first win at the Tour are all important wins that I'll always remember.
Apart from winning more stages at the Tour, what are your goals for the season?
I'd like to take the green jersey to Paris of course, but I also have my sights set on the Olympic Games and World Championships. I know that these are tough races where you only have one shot to make a difference, but I hope to be a player.
Is it true that you made a bet with Liquigas-Cannondale management that you would win two Tour stages and the green jersey? What will you win?
The team's president and I were joking about what I could do at the Tour de France. For luck, I don't want to say officially what was offered. I already have the three stages. If I don't take the jersey to Paris I'll lose out on a nice opportunity! [Ed.: Sagan may be playing coy, but reports are filtering out that should he make it to Paris in green, the youngster will find a Porsche waiting for him.]