Peter Sagan is looking to claim his eighth green jersey in the Tour de France but before celebrating in Paris, he has a bigger and much shorter-term goal: taking the first maillot jaune in Nice on Saturday.
The Slovakian has worn the yellow jersey four times in his career - once in 2018 and on three stages in 2016 - but he's never won the opening stage.
Normally the Tour de France opens with a fairly flat stage or prologue, but this year the Grand Départ in Nice includes some rolling terrain, with two trips up the Côte de Rimiez - a 5.8km ascent at a 5.1 per cent grade.
For Sagan, it's opportunity to have the pure speed of his sprint rivals blunted by the climb or from having to mount a furious chase over the last 40km of the stage.
"My wish is to try tomorrow and we will see if I can manage to pass the climbs," Sagan said in a pre-race Zoom press conference from Nice.
"But why not? After that, it's too hard on the second stage. The third stage might be OK. When all the sprinters are coming it's a little bit of a lottery. If I can manage to choose some harder stages and pass the climbs, it will be easier. But it's harder to pass the climbs."
Sagan might have been taking a back seat to Bora-Hansgrohe's general classification ambitions were it not for a series of unfortunate crashes that have three of the team's climbers coming into the race injured: Emanuel Buchmann, fourth in last year's Tour de France, and helper Gregor Mühlberger were injured in the Dauphiné, and Paris-Nice winner Max Schachmann is still recovering from a fractured collarbone from a crash in Il Lombardia.
Team director Enrico Poitschke says the team will support Sagan for the sprint competition.
"To get a jersey in the Tour de France is always one of the biggest goals of the year. Peter showed seven times and he's really motivated to do it again. The whole team will support him," Poitschke said.
"The goal is to win a stage with Peter. In the GC we have to see how it works in the first days. It's much different to other years. We've never had such a hard and intense start in the Tour de France. From that side, we really have and will rate how the guys are feeling before thinking about the GC."
If the team's GC riders do manage to find good form during the race, the team may have to shift some resources away from the sprint train, but Sagan says he's used to having to freelance.
"I did some Tours de France with Alberto Contador as the leader and I was also alone when I was with Tinkoff so I'm used to it," Sagan said.
"For sure I'm happy for Daniel's [Oss] help. We will see day by day how it's going. It's very important to be very focused every day, concentrate for the intermediate sprints and after for the finish."
This year's parcours, Sagan says, presents a bigger challenge with more and harder climbs in every week. "
This year it's actually a very hard Tour de France, there are a lot of climbs," Sagan said.
"I never had an experience like this during a Grand Tour with a lot of altitude [like] we're going to do this year, but it's the same for everyone. The more you spend one day, the more you pay the next day."
Few of the other sprinters in the race have demonstrated abilities in the mountains like Sagan.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) explicitly stated he would not seek the green jersey, only aim for stages. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) would normally be a key rival but his team is fully focussed on the GC with Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) may be his closest match, but Sagan wouldn't pick a name.
"We'll see during the Tour. Now for sure, there are a lot of riders. But after one week we can already see which riders are still there," he said.
Sagan said having the Tour de France proceed with the rescheduled dates was a "light at the end of a tunnel" during the long coronavirus lockdown. A new rise in cases in the areas around Nice has raised some alarm bells.
"I hope we're going to manage to finish this year. It all depends also on how the people around us are reacting to our races and what attitude they're going to take," Sagan said.
"We are blocked in one bubble in the Tour de France. I could see it already yesterday, everybody got tested. The presentation was pretty sad without the people but it is like it is.
"It's going to be a different atmosphere around the race, but for sure there will also be more safety for everyone," Sagan added.
"It's much better to have the atmosphere at home and maybe watch the race on television. It's a little sad for everyone but it is necessary to do all of these things so we can start and finish the Tour de France."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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