Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) has had two weeks to dwell and reflect on his 2017 Classics campaign. A win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and second in Milan-San Remo whetted the appetite. However, a crash and a mechanical would keep him from contesting the finish at either of the two subsequent monuments, and Gent-Wevelgem would be his only other podium finish.
Sagan admitted immediately after Paris-Roubaix that it was not a Classics campaign he could be happy with when he looked back at the results sheet. However, looking back is not something that Sagan likes to do, particularly when things have not gone to plan. Speaking to Cyclingnews at a motorsport event at the Salzburgring put on by Bora-Hansgrohe's car supplier Auto Eder, he is keen to keep the Classics firmly where they belong: in the past.
"You can't change what has already happened. That's just the way it is," said Sagan. "There are different kinds of things that could be frustrating - not a bicycle race. It's ok. One year is good and one year maybe worse, but this is life, there's nothing that you can do. Still, we have another eight months of the season, and there is no time to think a lot about history.
"I am ok. My performance was good. There has been, you know, some bad luck with what happened in the races; it was always something different. You can see that it wasn't about the performance that was good."
It was not necessarily all bad luck that saw him isolated. Sagan has built up a reputation for being a dab hand at almost anything and, knowing that they stood little chance of success if they brought him to the line, there was a concerted effort from several teams to shake the tree early to see if Sagan and the in-form Greg Van Avermaet would fall out. This was never more apparent than at the Tour of Flanders, where Quick-Step Floors put the hammer down with more than 90 kilometres still to run.
"No, it could be worse," Sagan replied when asked if he felt as if teams had been racing against him rather than riding their own race, despite comments made by Quick-Step Floors DS Wilfried Peeters ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
Instead, he said that the aggressive racing was part of the changing map of cycling and it could be different again from this year to the next. "Cycling changes really quickly every year," he said. "Since I was a WorldTour professional, from 2010, it has been changing every year. It's changing, maybe in a better way or maybe in a worse way. We will see where that takes us in the next five years."
Going for Green
The one thing that Sagan seems to dislike more than looking back over the disappointments, is glancing forward into the unknown. Speculation is something he's not comfortable with. In pre-race press conferences, he regularly bats away questions about what might be in the upcoming race. It is something that he's done even since his early days as a professional.
In a recent interview with the television magazine programme inCycle, Sagan said: "Don't lose energy about things that you don't know."
So, it's no surprise that the shutters go up when the topic of the green jersey at this summer's Tour de France is brought up. It is at this point that the Slovakian runs away from Cyclingnews in search of some wood to tap. The interview is taking place in the paddock of the Salzburgring – just after Sagan has completed a slalom course in one of the Ford Focus RS's on hand – and the only piece of wood Sagan can find is on the roof of a hut to one side of the paddock. Once he's leapt a couple of times to reach the roof and satisfied his superstitious concerns, he returns to the interview.
If Sagan wins the green jersey this July, he will equal Erik Zabel's run of six consecutive victories in the points classification. Sagan has been almost unchallenged in his feat, such has been his ability to master a wider variety of parcours than most. Despite his dominance of the competition, there is no waning of motivation for the Slovakian and he is keen to put another green jersey in his wardrobe.
"If I go to the Tour de France, everybody expects that I want to go and get another green jersey. Why else would I go if I don't want another green jersey?" said Sagan. "Every year is different, every year other people are motivated for it. You can see after the first 10 or 15 days how things are going, and after you can see if you are still in the game or not."
His unwillingness to speculate comes through when the chance at a third world title is put forward. "I don't know. I haven't seen [the course]," is all he will say. Whatever his thoughts, if he does win a third, then he will join a very illustrious group of riders who have three to their name – Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen, Eddy Merckx and Oscar Freire – and he would be the only male rider to win three on the run.
While he won't discuss a potential win in Bergen later this year, he is happy to talk about the two that he already has. "It's very good. You have to be doing something right if you are the world champion in the sport that you are doing. It's amazing. Also for me," he said.
"Richmond was special because it was the first time and it was in America. The second one, it is the title of world champion, and it's the second one. It's something more. It's also special."
Bedding in at Bora
This season brought a change of teams for Sagan after the Tinkoff team folded at the end of last season. Sagan appears to have settled in well at his new squad, probably helped by the fact several of his close friends from the Tinkoff team joined him at the German outfit.
"First of all, there's a different owner," he said, giving his now trademark laugh, when asked if there were any major differences between the two squads.
"It's a cycling team; we have to use bicycles and pedal our bikes and then, what's changed? Some riders, some staff, and some people are different. I don't think that there are any big changes that you can really do with the cycling teams."
Sagan's new and former team managers are two very different propositions. At Bora-Hansgrohe, Ralph Denk is a much quieter character, while Oleg Tinkov was more of a showman who enjoyed the spotlight. Sagan is getting on well with his new boss, but he still has time for Tinkov, who he says he shares the odd message with now and then.
"I think we have a very good relationship with Ralph and also with Oleg. Still, sometimes I write him a message to say hello, and some personal things."
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