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Peter Sagan with fans at the start
Slovak building for Worlds at Vuelta a España
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has faced questions about his future all year long and even the recent confirmation of his transfer to Tinkoff-Saxo for the next three seasons has done little to douse speculation about his plans and prospects for 2015.
Speaking at the team presentation of the Vuelta a España in Jerez de la Frontera on Friday evening, however, Sagan was keen to bring the discussion back to the here and now - or at least, to the rather more immediate future and the Ponferrada world championships next month.
"I want to finish this season well first and then we can talk about next year," Sagan said ahead of his first race since he put pen to paper with Oleg Tinkov.
An early abandon at the Clasica San Sebastian apart, Sagan's last race was the Tour de France, where he claimed a third successive victory in the points competition. Next season, he will have to share the limelight in July with Alberto Contador, but he was optimistic about Tinkoff-Saxo's chances of marrying their ambitions to claim the yellow and green jerseys.
"Why not? But that's next year," Sagan said. "I don't really want to talk about next season yet because first of all I just want to finish this year well. Next year is still far away, I think."
Indeed, the jersey Sagan covets right now is the rainbow jersey of world champion. In 2011, the Slovak was swallowed up in the final bunch sprint and finish 12th. In Valkenburg a year later, he seemed to pay a price for a heavy programme of post-Tour criteriums and could only manage 14th. Last season, Sagan prepared assiduously in Canada and the United States but the climb to Fiesole on the Florence course proved slightly too demanding and he had to settle for sixth.
This time around, the Ponferrada parcours seems ideally suited to Sagan's talents as a fast man with the ability to survive - and prosper - on punchy climbs, and his programme has been tailored accordingly. After a period of rest following the Tour and the Clasica San Sebastian, he resumed light training ahead of the Vuelta and it seems that the bulk of the heavy lifting will come in the next three weeks.
"After the Tour, I needed a little bit of rest, I needed to recover, but now I'm ok, I feel good," Sagan said. "Now I'm here for training and I'm looking to build form for the world championships."
Speaking to Cyclingnews on Friday evening, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) listed Sagan among his chief rivals for the "five or six" bunch sprints he reckons are viable on the Vuelta route.
Sagan, however, was circumspect about throwing himself headlong into the mass finishes. He picked up three wins on his sole previous appearance in 2011, but three years on, his thoughts seemed to be trained primarily on September 28 and the Worlds road race in Ponferrada.
"I don't know if I will take a lot of risks in the sprints or not," Sagan said. "I'm coming here after a bit of rest and then I started training easy, so now I just want to get back to race rhythm first. Then we'll see how I'm going day by day."