For the past three seasons, Peter Sagan has been synonymous with the rainbow jersey. In fact, it's hard to remember him wearing anything other than the rainbow stripes. While seeing him in a different kit next year will be an unusual sight for fans, Sagan himself says that it will take time for him to get used to being without the jersey.
Sagan won the world title three times in a row between 2015 and 2017 but handed the baton over to Alejandro Valverde in Innsbruck last Sunday after stepping off with two laps of the circuit remaining.
He will not quite be reverting back to team colours next season as he is still the reigning Slovakian national champion - he unveiled a new jersey that is not too dissimilar to his world champion one, with the Slovakian flag replacing the rainbow across the middle - but it still feels a little different.
"I have already done some team photos and here it is still OK because I have my stripes here," he told Cyclingnews, pointing to his arm. "But then I look down at myself and the bands are already the Slovak flag, and I think 'is this my jersey?' I just need time, it's OK.
"I can say also that I am happy that Alejandro won and I think that he will be a good world champion for next year. We can be proud of him because he is already a legend in cycling and I think he deserves the jersey. It's good and maybe it is going to be a bit easier for me next year."
The rainbow jersey was passed from Sagan to Valverde in a very literal sense last weekend, with the Slovakian taking to the podium following the event to give the new world champion his jersey. Sagan had suggested the idea to the UCI after watching a boxing match where the defeated champion handed the title belt to the victor. He enjoyed doing it, though he is not sure if it will become common practice.
"It depends, because everybody is different inside and everybody feels differently after a race. It's not something that you can schedule," said Sagan. "I just asked and the UCI said that it was a very good idea and that we could try it but we had to see. If you are going for a win or the podium then maybe not, but if it's possible then why not. After, it was possible because I was watching the World Championships on the television."
Given his noted abilities as an all-rounder and the fact that Sagan had won all three of his, he was still put in among the potential contenders in Innsbruck. Sagan took it seriously and headed to the Vuelta a España to get the climbing in his legs ahead of the Worlds. He arrived in Austria on the Friday before the road race and did a short recon of the course, choosing not to test himself on the so-called 'Hell Climb'.
There was a small hope within him that he might be able to do it a fourth consecutive time, but he tried to remain realistic.
"You can hope and you can dream about it but the reality is different," he said. "I tried but I already expected that it would be too hard for me."
Valverde will wear the rainbow jersey for the next 12 months but it might not be that long before we see Sagan in those familiar bands. Next year's World Championship course in Yorkshire is well suited to Classics riders such as Sagan, though he is keen to point out that it isn't always as easy as it might seem.
"We can think about a lot of things. People get used to saying it's obvious that he's going to win," he said Sagan. "It's not easy. Also, the three World Championships that I did it was more about surprise and luck. It was a lot of things together and not just fixed for me. It's not every year that it can be like that."
Different jersey, same Sagan
Sagan was already a rising star before he claimed his first world title in Richmond in 2015, but that has star has only grown further in the past three seasons. A lot is different for the boy from Zilina, Slovakia but he believes that not much has altered on the inside.
"I don't think so, but for sure I am more relaxed," Sagan told Cyclingnews when asked if he'd changed as a rider during his tenure as a world champion.
"My friends have to compare if I am the same person or not, maybe. I think that the things that have changed are not really only about cycling. It's a little bit of everything. You have to take care of a lot of things, my work has grown and you have to deal with a lot of things. That's what's changed for me. I don't think that I've changed."
No matter how successful you can become there are those moments when you become just another person. On Thursday, Sagan had been doing the media rounds in London as he publicised his new autobiography 'My World'. Throughout the day, he had been wearing a green t-shirt with 'Sagan' written across the chest and speaking at an event at the Hansgrohe shop in the British capital, he recounted a meeting with someone who mistook him as a fan of the noted astrophysicist Carl Sagan.
"I did a few interviews in a room and I went to the toilet," Sagan explained. "I just went in and somebody was going out and he said 'Sagan' and I said 'yeah'. And he said 'why Sagan, what is that?' I said 'Peter Sagan'. He said, 'I like your jersey but why Peter Sagan? It's Carl Sagan. Why do you have Peter Sagan, who is that?'
"I said, 'cyclist'. He said 'who? I thought it was the astronomer.' Ok, ciao."
Peter Sagan was speaking at the launch of his book, 'My World' at an event hosted by Hansgrohe Showers and Taps.
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