Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will start his 10th consecutive Amgen Tour of California next week hoping to breathe new life into a season that has so far netted the three-time world champion just one win.
The 29-year-old Slovakian pulled the plug on his Classics campaign early after failing to land a podium, and he travelled to the US earlier this month to prepare for the seven-day WorldTour race he won in 2015 and holds the race record of 16 stage wins. Despite Sagan's relative lack of success this season, the former winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix said he views his early season effort positively.
"The results don't tell you everything," Sagan said in an interview published on HNonline.sk. "After being sick in the spring, I was rather weak, and when I was better I immediately returned to racing, which didn't do me any good. But it is cycling, no one will wait for you. I lost a few weeks of training and it was what it was. On the other hand, I was still fighting for victory in Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, or was at least at the front. That's why I rate it positively."
This year won't be the first time Sagan arrives in California looking to turn things around after a disappointing spring. In 2015, during his first year with the Tinkoff-Saxo team owned by mercurial Russian Oleg Tinkov, Sagan arrived in California with just one win on the season and a fourth place in Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders standing as his best Classics result.
Tinkov publicly chastised his high-priced new toy, and Sagan responded with three consecutive second-place stage finishes before finally winning in Avila Beach. He took the race lead during the weather-shortened time trial two days later, then lost it to QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe on the climb to Mt. Baldy. But Sagan's effort on the mountain, finishing sixth and losing just 47 seconds to Alaphilippe, kept him within striking distance to take the overall victory by three seconds after earning a time bonus with third place on the final day.
Although another overall win may not be in the cards on a 2019 route with more than 20,000 metres of climbing, the Slovakian champion will no doubt be looking for a similar turn of fortunes in California this year. In an interview published on the race website, Sagan says he's returning to California this year with plenty of motivation.
"I come to give my best and achieve the best result possible," he said. "To extend my record of stage wins will be an additional motivation."
Sagan, who rode his first Tour of California in 2010 with Liquigas-Doimo, has won at least one stage of the race in every participation except last year, when 24-year-old Colombian Fernando Gaviria won all three sprint stages. Sagan reflected on nearly a decade of racing.
"It really went fast," he said. "I don't know how. I'm getting old now. Young racers come, and I start to look like a veteran among them. If you measure it from when I started cycling at age 9, it's 20 years.
"The motivation is the same, other things have changed," he said. "I used to be more predatory. I had enormous expectations and thought it was all very simple. Now I know what I am going to do. I have more experience, and I know that sometimes it is better to do things one way and other times another way. I try to think more about how to go as best as possible while still not getting tired.
"Last year at the Tour de France, I equalled Eric Zabel's six green jerseys in the points competition," he said. "I'd like to try for another, that's a great motivation for me."
Although Sagan's motivation appears to remain high, he said fans shouldn't expect to see him in the peloton 10 years from now, racing at age 39 like reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
"I hope not," he said when asked if he'd like to race until Valverde's age. "I admire him that he is still racing well at such an age, but I may not want to be when I am 10 years older."