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Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Cannondale leader talks about the Classics
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) managed to avoid a single question about which team he will ride for in 2015, insisting that even the Spring Classics seem beyond the horizon as he returns to action at the Tour of Oman in search of his first victory of 2014.
The Slovakian rider has won the opening stage at the Tour of Oman for the last two years and is keen to win again after missing out in both the Tour de San Luis and the Dubai Tour.
"It's a good race, this is the third time I've ridden it. I got sick after the fourth stage last year but it 's always been a good race for me. In the first year I won one stage and then last year I won two stages. I want to try to do something but we'll see this year," he said in his broken but easy to understand English.
"We'll see what happens. Last year I'd only ridden San Luis before Oman, this year I've also ridden the Dubai Tour. I've had more travel though, perhaps too much, with jet lag. It's been a little difficult.
"I'm the same weight. I've still got some fat and for now I'm not looking at what power I can put out. In training, things are ok. I do the training plans I get sent and I've been at a training camp. But the important thing is what I do in the races, in the big races: My objectives are after Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. Not now."
Sagan is convinced that he has done the work needed to start the first page of his 2014 palmares. He won 20 races in 2013, including Ghent-Wevelgem, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, four stages at the USA Pro Challenge, two at the Amgen Tour of California, plus a stage at the Tour de France and a second consecutive green points jersey.
His near misses were also memorable. He was beaten by Gerald Ciolek in the rain-soaked sprint at Milan-San Remo and then dropped by Fabian Cancellara in the finale of the Tour of Flanders after the escaped the rest of the contenders.
Sagan shrugs off the losses, convinced that he has time on his side.
"After a race I thought about it for maybe 10 minutes and then I forgot about it, there were too many riders in the front group for me to get upset. I was close in Milan-San Remo but I hope I have another 10 years [to win it]." he said, also deflecting questions about the Classics and main rivals Cancellara and Tom Boonen - both of whom he will face in Oman and who he will face together in Belgium in April for the first time due to their illness and injury in recent years.
"I've never thought about racing against them both at the same time. Maybe it's better for me!"
"Fabian and Tom have won some Classics. They're very strong riders and they're suited to the Classics, for them, it's like racing at home. I just want to do well in the Classics and other races. But without stress.
"We can speak about the Classics for four hours but then on the day things are very different. I think of stuff like that in the race, not now. I think we already spoken too much about last year's Milan-San Remo. And there's still a long time to this year's Classics."
Despite downplaying all the talk, Sagan's first major goal of the season will be Milan-San Remo. For him, the inclusion or removal of the Pompeiana climb makes little difference. He has the finishing speed and the climbing ability to win on either race route.
He will also ride Paris-Roubaix and possible the Amstel Gold Race. Yet he admits that the Classic he would love the most to win is the Tour of Flanders. He already seems to have bitten by the Flemish cycling bug.
"Flanders would be good but it'll be hard. I like it. It's very famous and important, it's a hard. It's nice. Paris-Roubaix too but that's a little bit different,"
The sustained machine-gun burst of questions from the dozen journalists sitting around him in the race hotel at the Tour of Oman, seem to make Sagan suffer more than any rival's attack or sprint finish.
"When I'm riding my bike and just thinking about life, it's easy. There's pressure from the outside. A lot of people want to talk about the Classics, the races and how I feel. I don't like it," he said.
However, bike racing is still fun, even if there's pressure and expectation, even at the Tour of Oman.
"Yeah. But to have fun, I must win something," Sagan said, revealing that the ambition that creates the pressure on his shoulders, come as much from within as from outside.