The ninth edition of the race covered 59.5km through the center of the city of Saitama, which is located about 30km from the capital Tokyo, and awarded a green jersey, won by Cavendish, and a King of the Mountains jersey, taken by Giulio Ciccone (Lidl–Trek). Ciccone also won the KOM jersey in this year’s Tour de France. Other top riders in the star-studded 51-rider field included European ITT champion Josh Tarling, 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (both Ineos Grenadiers) and 42-year-old retired road racer Adam Hansen (Legends), who is president of the professional cyclist’s union CPA.
Froome, who won the inaugural Saitama Criterium, in 2013, kicked off the racing with an attack just after the start of the first of seventeen 3.5km laps, and was a relentless protagonist throughout, earning him the Combativity Award. Bernal and Froome initiated the penultimate breakaway, just after the final intermediate sprint, which was won by Sagan, brining back memories of the style that earned the 33-year-old Slovak a record seven Tour de France green jerseys.
But Sagan didn’t wait around after his sprint win. He took off and was joined a lap later by Pogačar and Kuss. With 7km to the finish line, the trio began a lengthy game of cat and mouse, with Sagan dropping away with 2.5km to race. Entering the final km, the Slovenian took the lead and began a sprint a long way out, beating Kuss to the line by several bike lengths.
“I was waiting for that final race part, and I decided to go for only one attack today,” Pogačar said after the race. “It was a big success.”
Cavendish, who came out of retirement to try again to win his 35th Tour de France stage next year, led what remained of the peloton over the line, finishing fourth, at 0:20. Afterwards he was full of praise for the winner. “He doesn’t just win, he wins with excitement,” he told reporters. “He’s the idol of my little boy. He’s his favorite rider, he’s obsessed with him. So you know when a five-year-old is excited when someone races, that’s an exciting rider to watch.”