DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Don’t ask Peter Sagan if he’s a favorite to defend his rainbow jersey. Even he doesn’t know.
Sagan admits it’s been a long but highly successful season — one that included a daring detour back to mountain biking for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games — but he gave away a potentially dangerous hint: He’s not worried about Sunday.
“What do I have to lose?” Sagan asked with a shrug. “I already have one [world title]. I don’t have anything to lose. What pressure?”
On a flat course punctuated only by heat and wind, Sagan has just as much of a chance to win as anyone. On paper, the sprinters are the favorites, but this world championships is unlike any other.
“The favorites? Everybody. On this kind of parcours, luck counts,” Sagan said. “We will see what happens. I cannot read the future. For sure, you have to have good shape, and good luck.”
A year after storming to the world title in Richmond, the Slovakian superstar is a different man and a more dangerous racer. Unburdened with the pressure that came with the hunt for the “big win,” Sagan stampeded through the 2016: Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, three stages at the Tour de France and a fifth green jersey, a European road title and the UCI individual title, they all fell like dominos in a 12-win season. There was no hint of a curse.
“A curse? It also depends on the stars up in space,” he said. “Each moment this year in the rainbow jersey was very nice and special. I won a lot of nice victories. All year was very special.”
Now comes his last, and perhaps toughest challenge of the season. The worlds double is one of cycling’s most elusive marks. No one’s successfully defended the rainbow jersey since Paolo Bettini (in 2006-07), and it’s a feat that’s only been realized five times in cycling history. For a rider with Sagan’s pedigree, that’s worthy company.
“A lot of riders have won twice, some have won three times. It’s nothing historical,” he said with a shrug. “That is why I am here. I want to race and do my best.”
With a three-man Slovak team, Sagan is used to be out-gunned by the bigger, more established nations. His top rivals will have a full squad. Sagan will have his two legs.
“Is it a disadvantage? We will see Sunday. I am used to following the others,” he said. “Maybe it’s better for me to stay hidden away.”
That sounds eerily similar to Richmond, where he stayed hidden away in the pack until the final 5km. No one had seen Sagan all day, and by the time they realized he was up the road, it was too late.
Sunday in Doha will be a different race, under different conditions and on a radically different course. The result, however, could be very much the same.
“What can I say about that? I cannot predict the future,” he said. “For the shape I have, it would be better for me if it was shorter … We will see. For the winner, it will be perfect.”