Mediocrity is a not a term one usually associates with Peter Sagan but by his own admission 2014 was a season that failed to live up to his lofty expectations. A green jersey – his third on the trot – at the Tour de France was a notable highlight and his prowess at E3 Harelbeke had the peloton sit up and take notice but Sagan, in the eyes of many, is supposed to be an almost all-conquering force of nature on a bike.
In 2015 he may well reach those heights, picking up his first Monument along the way, and at his first training camp with his new Tinkoff-Saxo team he certainly brimmed with motivation. This team, in his mind, can rule the Classics, the Grand Tours and just about anything they put their mind to.
"I think we've got the best team for the Classics. We're the strongest team for those races. Why? Because we are. But seriously we have a great group of riders, and we have a top boss in Bjarne [Riis]. We're also super motivated, we have the best technology and the logistics on this team are amazing," Sagan tells Cyclingnews at the team's training base in Gran Canaria.
Riis's influence seems to have been key to Sagan joining from Cannondale. According to the Slovak star, WorldTour teams were queuing up in their droves to sign him. And who would blame them. At just 24 years of age Sagan has cemented his place as a rider worthy of leading any squad. Three green jerseys, a plethora of one-day success and the kind of star quality that has sponsors and bike manufactures rubbing their hands in glee, he's as close to the complete package as any rider can be.
"I wanted to come here and work with Bjarne," Sagan says as if there was no other choice. "This team was the one that really wanted me and that was key. There were other teams but they were only talking and talking. Lots of teams came to talk about an offer. BMC, Astana, Lampre, Alonso, Sky, almost everyone. But Tinkoff they said they really wanted me and that was the convincing factor. Bjarne is a top coach, a top strategist and what he says makes sense and the squad we have is incredible."
Green and yellow
Riis has primarily focused on delivering Grand Tour success in recent years, hardly surprising given Alberto Contador's strike rate and calibre over three weeks of racing. The Dane's last truly gifted one-day star was arguably Fabian Cancellara. The signing of Sagan has led to some questions over how the team can split duties during the Tour de France. Riis knows that winning both yellow and green is possible – he won the Tour in 1996 while his Telekom teammate, Erik Zabel, carried off green, and the German squad repeated the feat the following year with Ullrich and Zabel.
The last team to line up with any remote ambitions of winning both maillots was Team Sky in 2012, however, and while Bradley Wiggins did his part, Mark Cavendish was often left isolated. He managed to win three stages but the elusive green slipped through his fingers and onto the shoulders of Sagan, no less.
"Why not? Why can't we do it?" Sagan says, when provoked on the issue. "We tried it with Nibali in 2012 at Liquigas and we were close. Okay, he finished third at the Tour but that wasn't my fault or his. We still have to plan but I think we can do it and another green jersey is the aim for me.
"I have read about the changes to the green jersey rules but there's not much I can do. I can't change the situation so my best plan is not to talk about it, talking isn't important. I just need to ride and race for the jersey and not think about points and systems."
His relationship with Contador will be crucial to any possible success. The Spaniard has been publicly welcoming his new teammate to the team ever since rumours of his imminent transfer surfaced in June. At the Dauphiné, Contador briefly wore the green jersey and joked that he was training for Sagan's sprint train and the two riders who race so much on instinct have worked on building a relationship in recent team events.
"I know Alberto and I knew him before I got to the team. He's a relaxed guy and we've talked a lot. Communication is important, we both know that," Sagan says.
Riis' juggling act will also depend on getting the best out of Sagan's obvious talent. This season the Slovak appeared to stagnate. He was disappointing in Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders but took a smart win at E3 Harelbeke and finished a creditable third in Gent-Wevelgem.
"It wasn't good but it wasn't bad, my season. I won races but when you compare it to the season before it wasn't as strong," he admits.
"But I gained more experience this year and even when things weren't going well for me, I learnt valuable lessons and made sure that I took some positives steps. Okay, I didn't win a big Classic but even from a bad season I can take some experience and lessons for the future."
It is perhaps easy to forget that Sagan has yet to turn 25, such has been his level of success since he turned professional in 2010.
"Maybe I started winning too early," he says jokingly. "I mean a lot of riders ask me how old I am and they can't believe that I'm just 24. They look at me like I'm joking and they, along with a lot of people, assume that I've been in the pro ranks for ten years. But I'm okay with that because it's part of sport and I always think that I'm still developing and that my best is still to come. I'm not frustrated with how my season went, for example. Maybe when I'm 33, if I'm looking back and haven't won big victories then I'll be frustrated, but not now."
Next season will once again be built around the Spring Classics and the cobbles of Belgian. At present, the Ardennes are off the table but another Tour ride is a certainty. The Classics are perhaps where Sagan will ultimately be judged.
"To win a Monument you need to have the condition at nearly 100 per cent. Then you need the experience, you need the strategy, the luck and if one part is missing you're a long way off winning. Cycling is a beautiful sport and it brings together so many parts and what’'s special is that you have to decide so much in the moment," he says. "It makes things harder, less predictable but I feel like I've got more experience and I'm learning more and more at this new team."
Check out our exclusive video of the Tinkoff-Saxo riders training in Gran Canaria in their new camoflage training clothing below
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