Peter Sagan is often considered the only rock star in the professional peloton, but as the hours counted down to Saturday's first stage of the Tour de France, where he could take the first yellow jersey and begin to score points towards a record-breaking seventh green points jersey, the Bora-Hansgrohe team leader was evasive about his chances of winning, and seemed slightly irritated about a lack of support in his eight-rider squad for this year's race.
When asked about the chance of crashes at the Tour, Sagan and his entourage revealed their strong sense of superstition, closing down the question quickly in the hope it wouldn't carry any bad karma in the days to come.
During the Bora-Hansgrohe press conference late on Friday afternoon, Sagan was one of four team leaders, rather than the only leader. Bora-Hansgrohe is no longer only the Peter Sagan show, even if he generates more attention and headlines than all of his teammates combined.
Team manager Ralph Denk highlighted that Bora-Hansgrohe have already won 33 races so far this season – as many as in the whole of 2018. So far, Sagan has only won three times: stages at the Tour Down Under, the Tour of California and the more recent Tour de Suisse. He was fourth at Milan-San Remo and fifth at Paris-Roubaix, but struggled to extend his spring campaign into the Ardennes Classics.
Bora-Hansgrohe have developed and improved in recent years as Sagan lifted the profile and prestige of the German team. But now they are targeting a place in the top 10 overall at the Tour, through Patrick Konrad and Emanuel Buchmann, while new German national champion Maximilian Schachmann – who filled in for Sagan in the Ardennes and was third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège – will have the freedom to target stage victories. Buchmann finished third overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, while Konrad was third at the Tour de Suisse. Their GC ambitions seem legitimate.
Sagan will only have Daniel Oss to help him in the sprints and in the fight for the green jersey. His close friend Maciej Bodnar was not selected for the Tour de France, with other places going to Germans Marcus Burghardt, Gregor Muhlberger and Austria's Lukas Postleberger.
"For sure we've got a strong team for the climbs, while I've got Daniel Oss with me and then we've got Max for the rolling stages. Oss is there to protect me in the sprints and on the flat roads. He can climb, too. I trust him," Sagan explained, passing a question about the growing success of his teammates to Ralph Denk.
Sagan sat patiently during the many questions from the German media to the German and Austrian riders, only occasionally seeming bored and wishing he was elsewhere.
"It's nice to be back in Belgium even if it's different (to the spring Classics) because the weather is good weather. It's summer, so we can have a good time," Sagan said when it was finally his turn to speak.
"Of course, there's a very big difference between the Tour of Flanders and the first stage of the Tour de France. There are a lot of riders who want to win and there's always a lot of competition in the first week. We'll see what happens. We'll try to do our best."
Sagan insisted that he's not yet thinking about the green jersey, but he knows every point in every sprint will play a factor in deciding if Sagan wins a seventh green jersey.
"It's a big goal – that's why I'm here. I'll try my best, as always. You can see the odds for me; I think I've got a chance," he joked.
"I'll be fighting with a lot of riders for the green jersey," Sagan continued. "Every year is different, and I've won green in different ways. It will depend on the first week. We'll see how it goes in the second week, and then all the way to Paris. A sprint can go well or go badly, and that's why I'm not thinking about it."
The pure sprinters such as Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) are hungry to win the first stage in Brussels on Saturday. Sagan was evasive about his chances and about how the sprint would unfold, but has proved time again that he should never be ruled out.
"The final kilometre rises a little, but it's not that steep. I've seen that it's not that hard," suggested Sagan. "All the sprinters are the ones to beat. For sure, Groenewegen is strong, Caleb is strong, Elia is strong. The Tour de France sprints are always a big mess.
"My status and emotions are different to when I rode my first Tour, but I'm still happy to be here," he said.
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