Peter Sagan’s future is unwritten but plenty of ink has already been devoted to his possible 2021 destinations in recent weeks. The expiry of the three-time world champion’s contract with Bora-Hansgrohe means that he is at the centre of this season’s transfer market, though he preferred to brush off speculation about his decision ahead of his second Giro d’Italia appearance.
“For me, the important thing is to be here to do the sprints, be consistent,” Sagan told Cyclingnews on Thursday afternoon. “For my future, I’m not worried.”
Deceuninck-QuickStep, Israel Start-Up Nation, and even Movistar have all been floated as potential suitors should Sagan leave Bora-Hansgrohe at season’s end, but he has yet to make a decision on his future.
The Slovakian cannot, of course, publicly confirm any new team until after August 1, but he can joke about the running tally of teams he has been linked with at any time. “So you see, I have a choice,” he laughed. “I still have to decide.”
The beginning of Sagan’s 2021 campaign was delayed when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 during a training camp in Gran Canaria. After a period of quarantine, he opted to remain on the island to resume his training, but the two weeks off the bike meant that the bulk of his pre-season work was undone.
Sagan only returned to competition at Tirreno-Adriatico but he managed to place 4th at Milan-San Remo before winning a stage of the Volta a Catalunya the following week. Although he was still some way short of his best at the Tour of Flanders, Sagan arrives at the Giro on something of a high after claiming his second win of the campaign on the opening road stage of the Tour de Romandie, though he downplayed the idea that it marked a comeback.
“I have never gone away,” Sagan said. “I had prepared well in winter but then I was struck by this virus and I spent three extra weeks in Gran Canaria. By the time I got back on the bike, I had lost almost all the work I had done, because after two weeks off the bike, you lose everything.
“Starting from zero after having COVID-19 was a bit difficult. I think I only recovered 100 percent from it after a month and a half or two months.”
Indeed, Sagan could still feel the lingering effects of the virus even after his season got underway in late March, when he began an intense period of racing in an effort to ready himself for the subsequently postponed Paris-Roubaix.
“Once I got the negative tests, I went to Tirreno, San Remo, and Catalunya, which was almost – almost – like doing a Grand Tour. I did Flanders too, and then I had a moment to recover a bit,” Sagan said. “I hadn’t been home in about three months so I trained with my brother in Monaco. And then we went straight on to Romandie, where I felt good. I never went to the limit in any stage there.”
A stage winner on his Giro debut last October, Sagan now returns to sample the race in its traditional May slot. In years past, the Giro’s position between the Classics and the Tour de France had seen him skip it in favour of the Tour of California, but he welcomed the additional race days given his late start to the season.
“I used to re-start after the Classics with a lower level race, which was always California, and I’d combine that with altitude training in Colorado or Utah to prepare for Switzerland and the Tour de France,” Sagan said. “Now when there isn’t California, and with Roubaix cancelled, I think it’s good that I’m doing the Giro.”
Amid a condensed calendar last Autumn, Sagan was among a select band of riders to line out at the Giro just two weeks after completing the Tour. After some near misses in both uphill and bunch sprints, Sagan claimed his lone victory of 2020 with a fine effort at Lido di Tortoreto on stage 10, but Arnaud Démare’s haul of four stage wins meant that the maglia ciclamino was quickly out of reach.
The depth of sprint talent at the 2021 Giro – Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) are all present – might present an opportunity for Sagan. If no single pure sprinter can dominate on the flat, the points Sagan picks up on hillier days might carry him to the maglia ciclamino.
“There are more sprinters here. Last year, Démare won a lot of stages and that gave him a big advantage over me, but this time they might be spread out a bit more among the sprinters, which would put us all closer together on points,” said Sagan, though he is less convinced about his prospects of wearing the pink jersey in the opening week, maintaining that the time gaps will be too great in the opening time trial in Turin.
“If it was more technical then maybe I could stay close enough to the pink jersey, but it’s pretty straight. It’s not very well suited to me.”
No matter, Sagan declared himself ready for “another adventure in Bella Italia,” though he expressed regret that coronavirus restrictions will again limit the spectators at the roadside to a minimum.
“It’s more than a year since we’ve done races with the public, and it’s not the same for us riders. It’s sadder,” Sagan said. “It’s like playing football without a crowd. Who are you playing it for? Ok, there are video cameras and so on but it’s not the same thing.”
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