Throughout the long-running Peter Sagan transfer saga, his agent Giovanni Lombardi was the man who held all the cards. Since last winter, Lombardi has displayed his best poker face when questioned by the media about Sagan’s destination for 2015, and played his hand well in contract negotiations to secure one of the most lucrative deals in cycling history for the Slovak.
On Friday, Sagan was finally confirmed as a Tinkoff-Saxo rider for the next three years, bringing an end to months of speculation that had originally seen him heavily linked with a move to Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso’s proposed team.
“I spoke with Fernando quite a bit this winter but unfortunately he wasn’t ready to start at the time and we took another path,” Lombardi told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Poland. “But Sagan and Alonso have a great rapport, and I hope Alonso manages to get his team off the ground because it will be good for all of cycling.”
When Oleg Tinkov – who had already attempted to buy Sagan’s Cannondale team in the autumn of 2013 – became the owner of the Tinkoff-Saxo squad at the beginning of this year, he quickly superseded Alonso as Sagan’s most likely suitor.
“In December, January, February, Alonso wasn’t ready yet, and we made another choice,” Lombardi said. “The idea to go with Tinkov came about quickly because we knew that Oleg liked Peter a lot. Once we sat down at the table with Oleg, the choice was easy.”
As well as meeting Lombardi and Sagan’s hefty asking price, prospective teams needed to be able to offer the Slovak a level of support in the finale of the spring classics that he did not have during his time at Cannondale.
“He wanted to go to a strong team to try and win the big races that he hasn’t won before – the Monument classics, in short,” Lombardi said. “The choice was a good one and we’re happy because it’s a strong team and one that can go and fight in Belgium against Omega, which is currently the strongest team.”
Tinkoff-Saxo CEO Stefano Feltrin told Cyclingnews on Friday that the team is likely to add at least one other big name classics rider to its roster for 2015. In recent days, Gazzetta dello Sport has linked Edvald Boasson Hagen – whose contract with Sky expires at the end of this season – with a move to the squad.
“Peter has big ambitions in the spring classics and I think they’re going to take another one or two strong riders for him for those races. Let’s hope that they do sign these riders that they say they want to sign,” Lombardi said.
“The team is already strong, mind, with Bennati, Bodnar and Breschel. If one or two other big riders come for the classics, all the better, but we’re already happy with how it is.”
Sagan not signed to win sprints
Lombardi insists that Sagan can coexist smoothly with Alberto Contador on the Tour de France team – “When Nibali won stage 2 this year, for instance, if Sagan was with Tinkoff, he would have won the stage and taken the yellow jersey,” he said. A lead-out man for both Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel during his career, Lombardi was not overly concerned by the strength of Tinkoff-Saxo’s sprint train, pointing out that Sagan’s emphasis is squarely on winning in the spring classics.
“They haven’t signed Peter to win sprints. Sure, they want to win those too, but Tinkov wants Peter to make a leap in quality and win the big classics,” he said.
In the short-term, that means Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but Lombardi believes he is also eventually capable of winning in the Ardennes or at the Tour of Lombardy.
“Certainly, Peter can one day win Liège or even the Tour of Lombardy,” he said. “It’s very hard – impossible, I think – for Peter to win a big tour but in the classics, Peter can win all year long.”