Peter Sagan is convinced he will continue to mature and improve in 2014 as he learns the secrets of winning the cobbled Classics and so how to defeat his biggest rival and often his biggest critic Fabian Cancellara.
Sagan will be 24 on January 26, the last day of the Tour de San Luis, where he will begin his 2014 season. He is eight years younger than Cancellara but won Gent-Wevelgem and 21 other races in 2013, dominated the green points jersey competition for a second year at the Tour de France and finished second to Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) at Milan-San Remo and was second to Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.
"I think I've done better every season and 2013 was definitely a good season. There's always something you can improve, you can always do better, you can always win more, so you can never be satisfied. That's how I approach life and my racing," Sagan told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview at the recent Cannondale training camp.
"I make mistakes in races but you can always learn from your mistakes. I'm sorry I didn’t win Milan-San Remo. I'll remember losing the sprint to Ciolek for the rest of my life but now I've got over it, I've learn from it. I think I'm gaining more and more experience all the time. I'm becoming more automatic in how I do things, I feel I'm getting better and better."
Natural born leader
Sagan's development is almost visible to the human eye. Physically he is stronger and leaner, while mentally he seems able to handle the pressure and notoriety of being one of the biggest names in the professional peloton. He laughs and jokes during the interview and when with his teammates but quickly turns serious when necessary. He appears to be a natural leader; he is both inspiring and demanding with his teammates. He lead his group during a training ride but was not afraid to speak his mind about his team's performance in the team time trial race created by new coach Sebastian Weber.
"I hope I can be a good leader," he said.
"I think a leader has to be a good person, treat other people the right way and have charisma, so I try and lead by example be honest and sincere."
Taking on Cancellara
Cannondale has several different team leaders, including Ivan Basso, Moreno Moser and sprinter Elia Viviani but Sagan is now by far the biggest name in the team. Sagan knows he be team leader in all the spring Classics, including Paris-Roubaix in 2014. It will be up to him to take on and beat Fabian Cancellara if he wants to prove he is now the best Classics rider in the peloton.
Cancellara is often irritated by Sagan's impertinence and arrival as the heir to his cobbled Classics crown.
The Swiss star recently suggested Sagan could suffer under the pressure of expectation on his young shoulders in 2014. When Sagan hears Cancellara's attempt at pre-season mind games, he laughs and responds blow for blow, just as he would in a race scenario.
"He's the one who'll be under pressure to win in 2014… Sagan told Cyclingnews with a mischievous laugh.
"I've still a lot of my career ahead of me to win. I don’t know how long he can keep going for?"
"I can't understand why there needs to be a war of words in the press but he likes to talk a lot. But the wheel always turns in cycling as we say… He talked a lot about the world championships in Florence but what happened?"
"I'm joking a bit, of course. Fabian's a great champion. He and Tom Boonen are the riders I grew up watching on television and now I'm racing against them."
"I don’t know if he said that because he's trying to provoke me or if he simply doesn't like me but I admire him. He always does well in the races he targets. So if I lose to him at the Tour of Flanders like I did last year, I just have to accept defeat. He was stronger than me and won. We'll see what happens in 2014."