With the rainbow jersey on his shoulders and his billing as the race's brightest star the clamour surrounding Peter Sagan at the Tour Down Under is understandable. The first and only other time he graced the race came in 2010 when as a relatively then unknown neo-pro he served warning of his talent by making the break alongside Lance Armstrong in the opening Criterium, and then again once again escaping on the stage to Willunga Hill.
Since then Sagan has established himself as one of, if not the most, recognisable stars within the sport. So it goes without saying that no matter his form or his ambitions here in Adelaide, his performances will be pored over and analysed more than most.
Before a training ride this week Sagan told Cyclingnews that he hoped his form was below its normal best. It was a half serious quip, maybe, but with Milan-San Remo eight weeks away his desire to remain tranquil is understandable. After all, unlike the homegrown Portes and Gerrans, the Tour Down Under is just a season opener for the Bora man.
"It's a good race. The stages are hard but not super hard and they're long but not super long," he told Cyclingnews.
Such an indication would imply that Sagan is here to tune up the engine rather than rev it to the max but few would anticipate the two-time world champion merely making up the numbers.
"I want to get in shape, so it's good for that. We'll see day-by-day what I can do in the sprints, maybe some of the technical finishes but we'll see. I believe it's good preparation and we can ride as much as we want. The race isn't super hard or super long so you can get a good balance with your condition."
"How's my form? I hope not very good for now. It's day-by-day and there's no plan on GC. It's my first race and I want to keep calm because the season is getting longer and longer. You don't want to be in shape too early but wait for a good moment."
At the pre-race press conference on Saturday, he once again played down his ambitions, and highlighted that his teammate, Jay McCarthy, who won a stage here last year, would be the team's designated leader.
"I've had a really good preparation," he told the press.
"And I've been here for two-and-a-half weeks. We'll take it day-by-day here but we have Jay and it's a really big race for him. We want to help him for GC and I'll see how my legs are on a daily basis.
"Jay will be better for the tougher finishes. I just don't want to crash. I want to come out of this race with good shape. I've seen the stage 2 finish. It's not impossible but it's hard for me. Then there's Willunga and I remember that from 2010. I don't really know what condition I have in comparison to another rider."
Sagan is not unbeatable but the burgeoning palmares and the growing aura that now surrounds him ensures that he is never seen as 'just another rider'. By the time this race wraps up Sagan will have left his mark on the Tour Down Under. It's down to him as to what that might entail.
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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