This year's Milan-San Remo will be Sagan's tenth ride in the event. He has won almost every other race he can, including three world titles, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, but Milan-San Remo has always escaped his grasp, even though the event seems tailored to his aggressive style of racing and fast sprint finish.
Sagan was 17th on his debut in 2011, when he rode to help Liquigas teammate Elia Viviani before placing fourth in 2012, when he won the bunch sprint behind the winning break. He was beaten into second place by Gerard Ciolek in 2013 when snow interrupted the race. He has taken five other top ten placings since then, including second in 2017, when he got away with Julian Alaphilippe and Michał Kwiatkowski, only to be beaten by the Pole in the close three-man sprint.
Sagan chased hard after Alaphilippe on the Poggio last year and seemed the fastest of the ten riders in the front group, but he messed up his sprint due to poor positioning and his decision to watch other riders rather than focus on his own effort on the Via Roma.
Fourth place left him disappointed, but Sagan insists that multiple defeats have not turned Milan-San Remo into an obsession.
"I've been second twice and fourth I don’t know how many times. I hope to win Milan-San Remo but it's not an obsession," Sagan said on Friday, highlighting the uncontrollable aspects of the race than can suddenly lead to defeat for anyone.
"It's the first time we've raced 300km this season, it's going to be almost seven hours long, the route is different and so is the weather – it's going to be pretty hot. One less rider for each team will also change the tactics. I don’t know what to expect."
Sagan has not won a race since last year's Tour de France, though he took a number of placings in sprints at the Vuelta a San Juan and then Paris-Nice before the 2020 season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
He was distanced early at Strade Bianche with no explanation as to whether he crashed, punctured or simply cracked. Sagan bounced back at Milan-Torino on Wednesday, however, starting the sprint early to anticipate the pure sprinters, only for Arnaud Demare, Caleb Ewan and Wout van Aert to pass him before the line.
Early in his career, Sagan started Milan-San Remo as a perennial favourite alongside Fabian Cancellara. Now, many of his rivals for victory come from a new generation of talent, including Van Aert and debutant Mathieu van der Poel. But despite turning 30 in January, Sagan's genius should never be ruled out and he could finally emerge from the incognito of the new-look Milan-San Remo to triumph in the Via Roma.
"I don't know if this will finally be my year, it's difficult to make predictions about anything these days," Sagan suggested preferring to stay in his enigmatic pre-race mindset once again.
"There could be lots of surprises, so let’s get ready for anything."
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