Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has only one objective before this year's Tour de France, to win a Spring Classic. Any one will do, although it doesn't take long before he pinpoints Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race as the events most suited to his characteristics as a rider. Currently competing at the Tour de San Luis, journalists are queuing up to talk to the Cannondale rider and his mantra is crystal clear.
"I'm not thinking about three or four years down the line or what I can achieve later in my career. Right now it's all about the Classics, and I don't want to think about not winning," Sagan told Cyclingnews.
"This race is good preparation for me and my season. I'm getting in the kilometres and it's all about objectives for later in the season. I'm checking out who else is going well but I'll head to Oman and then Tirreno and San Remo. That's when I want to peak, for the Classics because they're the biggest objectives for me."
Cannondale lost Vinenzo Nibali to Astana, but the move has created more room for Sagan to flourish. Last year, he was a major player in a number of the one-day spring races, but at times he lacked the poise and experience but with another year under his belt, and a team more focused on supporting his ambitions his focus is clear.
"Last year I was always on the front in those races, and I was a contender but I just couldn't find that right mix to get a win," he said.
“We have a good team at Cannondale, a strong team. Maybe last year the preparation was centred more around the Giro [d'Italia] and the Tour [de France], maybe. But we have Fabio Sabatini, Haedo, Bodnar, and I also think that Mauro Da Dalto is a good rider for the Classics as well."
With more experience, Sagan is as close to the full-package as it comes when compared to the best one-day riders in the world. A punchy sprint, the spring to attack on the climbs and the stamina to last in races over 260 kilometres. He won on 16 occasions last year too - more than Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, and Marcel Kittel - but this year Sagan would put all those numbers aside for a Classic and with so many strings to his bow the biggest dilemma could come down to how he plays his cards.
"I don't know what situation suits me the best," he replied when asked if a sprint in San Remo would suit him better than a small break.
"It could be a sprint but then you could be off the front with one rider. If I'm in the battle for the win I'll just have to assess the situation as best I can and make decision from there. Look at last year, my old teammate Vincenzo Nibali was off the front so there wasn't much I could do. I wasn't about to hit the front and chase him down. Then at Flanders last year I was unlucky because I had bad luck at key points. Last year I think I took a big step and gained a lot of experience, so now it's about taking that forward.
"Maybe I just need to get that first win. The first victory in the Classics is perhaps the hardest because it a psychological race as well as a physical one."
If Sagan is to claim his first Classic, he will have to take Omega Pharma-QuickStep head on. After a couple of inconsistent seasons the Belgian team were dominant in 2012, with Tom Boonen winning Flanders, Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem. Terpstra chipped in with Dwars Vlaanderen and Sylvain Chavanel also chimed in with the overall at De panne for good measure.
It could have all been so different had QuickStep followed up on initial interest in Sagan when he was a junior. QuickStep's manager Patrick Lefevere called the Slovak in for testing but passed up the opportunity to sign him.
"They looked at me when I was a junior. I was really young and did some tests for them. They wanted me to race in the younger categories for a while longer but then Liquigas came and asked me to test and train with them. I was riding on the road and in mountain biking, but after one year of that Liquigas gave me a contract. Lefevere did test me, that's true, we just did a power test and heart rate."
At QuickStep's team presentation last week Boonen pinpointed Sagan as one his most dangerous rivals. The two both ride aggressively, can sprint, and have teams devoted to their cause. Along with Fabian Cancellara they'll start the Spring Classics as the predicted favourites. When asked if he or Boonen has the more lethal sprint, Sagan wisely pointed out that each race is different and that form is never permanent within sport.
"It depends on the race, the conditions, who has better form and how the race plays out. It's hard to say, because after 260 kilometres each race is different, maybe Boonen has better support one day, maybe I do. Two years ago Gilbert was flying up the steep climbs and the journalists were asking who was better, me or Gilbert. Then he wasn't that strong at the start of the next season. My point is, is that every race is different and hard to predict."
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