A shaven-headed Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) used a pre-race press conference at the Tour de Pologne on Friday to underline that his Tour de France disqualification is now behind him, to confirm he is chasing stage victories rather than overall success, and to hark back to 2011, when, as a young rider, the Polish race was his first ever WorldTour stage race victory.
The world champion was speaking at a press conference in the Tour de Pologne race headquarters, in a hotel on the outskirts of Krakow, the southerly city that is Poland’s former capital and where the first stage starts on Saturday. He followed that up with a series of media chats in an outdoor mobile stand containing his new range of limited edition 'Peter Sagan' products, mainly clothing - a project with its roots in January, he explained, but which has been launched to coincide the start of the Tour de Pologne.
Aside from the Sagan t-shirts, what caught much of the media’s attention was the Bora-Hansgrohe leader’s newly shaved head look. However, the Slovak brushed aside suggestions this new appearance was a way of putting some psychological distance between himself and the events of July.
"It was time for a change," Sagan said. "I have already forgotten about the Tour de France."
Sagan was clearly in a good mood overall, exchanging jokes with Rafal Majka, the only other rider present and switching between Polish and Slovak for a chunk of the press conference.
His point of view on the Tour de France was simple.
"The Tour de France is finished, I spoke a lot about what happened there, I don't accept the decision they made but that is already in the past," Sagan insisted. "I'm looking forward to the Tour de Pologne and my next races."
Sagan is due to ride the BinckBank Tour (formerly Eneco Tour), then the Canadian WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal. A final decision on him riding the European road race championships between the two WorldTour stage races has yet to be made.
Looking back to 2011
While Sagan is extremely familiar with all of these races - he won two stages of Eneco last year and finished second and first in Quebec, and Montreal races last September - his last participation in the Tour de Pologne dates back to 2011 when he captured the overall - his first ever WorldTour stage race win.
"I was taking it on day by day, and I always kept up there in the stages, won two and had some time bonuses," Sagan said. "Then in the last days I was losing by 2.5 seconds or something, but then I won on the last stage because I got second and I got another time bonus."
In the process, Sagan pushed the race leader, 2010 Tour de Pologne winner Dan Martin, down into second place overall.
"That year remains a very good memory for me, and it was a very nice surprise because I'd never won a race so big before," he recollected. It was a breakthrough moment, he agreed, preceding as it did three stage wins in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, that September.
Fast forward six years and Sagan is simply keen to get moving again after the events of the summer. Or as he put it, "For sure I'm very happy to be here again, because after what happened in the Tour de France, I'm very glad to get back into races."
Teammate Rafal Majka is seen as Bora-Hansgrohe's team leader this year, while Sagan will try for stages. He was cagey on whether the race, lacking in a time trial when he won in 2011, could be decided by the time bonuses - on this occasion of 10, 6 and four seconds, as well as 3, 2 and 1 seconds in the intermediates.
"Day by day," he responded.
Just like six years ago where Sagan won a stage in the Tatra mountains at the winter skiing resort of Zakopane, this year's Tour de Pologne will also head south to near his home country of Slovakia
"I expect a lot of fans from Slovakia, Poland and the world. Then we'll see how it's going. I'll see what my condition is like, this is my first race back after a three-week break. It's going to be important to think positively."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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