Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) watched on slightly amused as Remco Evenepoel made his professional debut at the recent Vuelta a San Juan, knowing what it's like to be at the centre of attention and have every performance – good or bad – scrutinised and discussed.
The Belgian media at the Argentinean race followed the 19-year-old Belgian's every move as he made his debut with Deceuninck-QuickStep, with his eventual ninth place overall and success in the under-23 classification garnering more attention than Winner Anacona's overall victory.
Evenepoel will ride the UAE Tour later this month, making his debut at WorldTour level, where his performance will be compared against Grand Tour stars such as Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali.
Evenepoel sparked headlines early in the Vuelta a San Juan by revealing that Sagan had congratulated him on his riding in the echelons during stage 1. Sagan admitted to Cyclingnews he couldn't remember speaking to Evenepoel but did know about his rapid rise to success, his double junior world title in Innsbruck and his step-up to the WorldTour without racing as an under-23 rider.
Sagan observed Evenepoel's debut from inside the peloton. Like an older brother, he offered some advice based on his own experience, warning Evenepoel not to be caught up in all the attention.
"I heard he won both junior world titles, that he won by a massive gap. Now we'll see what he can do as a pro. The step up from junior level directly to WorldTour level is a big step, so let's see how he does and how it handles it all," Sagan suggested to Cyclingnews.
"The most important thing is that he enjoys himself, because if the racing and everything around it becomes simply a job and a way to earn some money, he's going to suffer like hell.
"When we all start riding a bike and start racing, we do it because we love it. Then it becomes a job and a way of earning your living but it's easy not to enjoy anymore. I work hard to make sure I still enjoy it all."
Living in the spotlight
Sagan has learned to live in the spotlight, making mistakes along the way, but managing to stay successful for a decade since winning stages at the 2010 Paris-Nice.
"I wasn't under the spotlight like he is now," Sagan pointed out.
"I'm used to pressure now because I've been a professional for a decade and I've gradually learnt to handle it all. When you've got years of experience and you're older, everything is different and everything is easier."
Sagan went on to live up to the expections he created in the early years of his career with the Italian Liquigas team. He has since won three world titles, six green jerseys at the Tour de France, the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix and 11 stages at the Tour de France. His palmarès currently includes 110 victories and Sagan is widely considered the biggest name in the peloton due to his success, personality and 'live for the moment' philosophy.
He advised Evenepoel to follow a similar approach to his racing and to managing expectations.
"I think it's very early to think about his future. Who knows what will happen in the years ahead?" Sagan said.
"If he continues as I expect he will, I think he'll get better during the season. I think he'll have an interesting career, but it's also about how he manages it all mentally.
"We'll see after a year or two how he's grown up. I don't know what kind of rider he is or what type of rider he can become. I've grown up compared to when I was 18 or 19, but I don't know if he's reached his final level of maturity. Time will tell what he can really do during his career."
Sagan used the Vuelta a San Juan to work on his early-season form after also riding the Tour Down Under in Australia. He'll soon begin a block of altitude training to prepare for the spring Classics and return to racing at Tirreno-Adriatico in early March.
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