Peter Sagan travels to Australia today to begin the new season at the Tour Down Under. He will again wear the rainbow jersey as world champion after his third consecutive victory in Bergen but it will be his first season as a father after his wife Katerina gave birth to their son Marlon in October.
Sagan has enjoyed an extended spell of paternity leave during the winter, quietly savouring the emotions of Marlon's birth and early months while preparing for the 2018 season. He told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he is simply 'like any other dad' but warned he is still hungry for success as he approaches his 28th birthday (on January 26) and starts his 10th season as a WorldTour rider.
"It's a beautiful feeling being a father, it's difficult to describe, Marlon makes me so happy," Sagan told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I'm a normal dad, who gets worried when he cries and I can't understand what he needs; I also enjoy playing and smiling with him. My life has changed, things are more emotional now but everything else is pretty much the same. The truth is that Kate mostly looks after Marlon but I'm sure that'll change when he gets older. I've lost some sleep but it's been worth it for sure."
A stronger Bora-hansgrohe team
Sagan has won 101 races so far in a remarkable career. His palmarès includes the 2016 Tour of Flanders but also several other placings because his aggression and lack of team support has often cost him victory. He was beaten by Michal Kwiatkowski at Milan-San Remo and has seven other top-10 placings in the one-day Monuments.
"I'd love to win [Paris-] Roubaix and San Remo but if I won Flanders again it wouldn't be a problem…" Sagan told La Gazzetta dello Sport when asked his goals and plans for the spring.
"There's little change to my usual race programme. After racing in Australia I'll do an altitude camp at Sierra Nevada in Spain. I could then ride the opening races in Belgium at the end of February. For sure I'll be in Italy for Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico before Milan-San Remo. My build-up for the Belgian Classics will follow the usual path."
Sagan has often been outnumbered in the finales of major races but Bora-hansgrohe have looked to help him in 2018 by signing Daniel Oss from BMC. Sagan is convinced he now has a solid group around him.
"I'm really happy that Oss has joined our team. He's a friend and a great rider," Sagan said.
"We've got a great group for the Classics: [Marcus] Burghardt, [Maciej] Bodnar, [Lucas] Pöstlberger, my brother Juraj, and now Daniel too. I like his mentality; he's always upbeat and smiling. We've also got [Peter] Kennaugh and [Davide] Formolo. We're definitely stronger as a team."
La Gazzetta dello Sport suggests that Bora-hansgrohe would like Sagan to ride the Amstel Gold Race before he takes a break and then rides the Tour of California, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France.
Sagan did not mention the polemics and eventual peace deal with the UCI following his disqualification from the 2017 Tour de France and appeal to the Court of Arbitration or Sport after he clashed with Mark Cavendish on stage 4. He also struggled to look as far as the end of the season and the defence of his rainbow jersey on the hilly course in Innsbruck in Austria.
"The truth is that the World Championships is still far out of view for me. Not only because it's a while off but also because of the course," he said.
"I want to enjoy my time in the jersey with the 'little stripes' as I call it, win as much as I can and have some fun. I'm a little sceptical about this year's World Championships. I'll do what I can but anything can happen. I don't think I have the characteristics to repeat the success of the last few years. It's more a Worlds for [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Alejandro] Valverde than for me."
Sagan is undoubtedly the biggest name in professional cycling, especially with Chris Froome now mired in a fight to clear his name and explain his Adverse Analytical Finding for salbutamol.
Sagan stands out in the peloton for his success in sprints and the Classics, his natural playful style and a desire to be himself despite sponsor obligations and the unwritten rules of the peloton.
He just likes to race, win and enjoy himself.
"I don't know if I'm a role model in cycling but it's nice if people think that," he said.
"I haven't changed and won't change. I'm driven by my feelings and I'm always open and transparent. It's fundamental for me to be myself even if that means I go against the flow. Being myself is what makes me feel good."