Peter Sagan will have a co-star next month as the Sagan Show returns to the Tour de France.
Bora-Hansgrohe, which confirmed its Tour Eight on Tuesday, is trying to find balance between the overall classification and the sprints. The German-backed team brings three-time world champion Sagan back to the Tour following his controversial exclusion last year, with Rafal Majka seeing support in a quest for a spot on the overall podium.
It’s a balancing act the team hopes will pan out as the Tour faces its first edition with new rules that reduce the number of riders per team to eight.
“We want to win a stage, the green [points] jersey and aim for a top 5 overall. These are ambitious goals,” said team boss Ralph Denk. “Of course, it’s not easy to find a balance in your lineup with two leaders in the team, but I think we did a good job.”
The eight-rider roster rule is putting the pinch on teams as they select their Tour squads.
About half of the teams have revealed their lineups, and so far it seems that they’re being forced to make a choice. Most are either putting their firepower behind the GC or going all-in for stages and breakaways. The biggest surprise so far was Mitchelton-Scott’s decision to leave sprinter Caleb Ewan at home to fully back Adam Yates.
Of course, teams with legitimate podium contenders rarely brought a sprint component even with nine riders.
Yet having one fewer warm body makes it more complicated for teams wanting to bring a team with a GC contender and have at least one rider to protect a sprinter. Quick-Step Floors’ roster is also packed with sprinters and stage-hunters, with Bob Jungels making his first real stab at the Tour GC.
Denk has it a little bit easier with his versatile Bora-Hansgrohe lineup.
Sagan is a confirmed superstar who can win across a variety of terrain but is not a classic sprinter that needs a full train to set him in the mass gallops. Majka is a similar profile in the GC. A regular top-10 finisher at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, he’s not a bankable podium contender that demands a full fleet of climbers to protect him across three weeks.
Majka, who crashed out of last year’s Tour, has won three Tour stages and the climber’s jersey in 2014 and 2016, but he’s never finished better than 27th overall. This year, he will try to stay close on GC, meaning he won’t have as much rope to attack for stage wins and King of the Mountains points. The team has assigned Gregor Mühlberger and Pawel Poljannksi to help him in the mountains.
“I think I am ready for the Tour now. Now we just need a little bit of luck to get through the first 10 stages,” Majka said. “My preparations went well over the last weeks and I was able to put in some decent work at high altitude in the Sierra Nevada.”
Even if Majka gets a co-starring role, all the attention will be on Sagan’s highly anticipated return to the Tour. His controversial exclusion from last year’s Tour took much of the drama out of the Tour for fans who love Sagan’s style and panache.
All signs suggest Sagan is on track to win another green points jersey as well as win at least one stage. All-rounder Lukas Pöstlberger is tapped to help Sagan in the bunch sprints.
“The Tour is a complicated race. My preparations went well and I feel I am ready,” Sagan said. “We need a little bit of luck to achieve our goals; without luck, everything can be lost in one moment.”
The remainder of the squad includes brawny riders who can protect Sagan and Majka across all terrain leading into the sprints and mountains. Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, and Marcus Burghardt round out the team.
The team is already putting a special focus on the cobblestone stage ending in Roubaix. As the defending Paris-Roubaix champion, Sagan will be a natural favorite to win stage 9. Bora brings a team packed with riders adept on the punishing pavé.
“The stage to Roubaix will be special, for me as well, now that I have these good memories about this place and the sectors,” Sagan said. “However, the race will be different than in April, with all the GC guys fighting at the front as well.”
Denk has set a high, but realistic bar. Sagan is almost a guarantee to win at least one stage and challenge for what would be a sixth green points jersey. Majka is a bit of a stretch to finish in the top 5 on GC in what’s expected to be a highly competitive fight for the yellow jersey.
It will be interesting to see how many other teams have the depth and versatility on their bench to bring riders to battle on all fronts in this first modern Tour with eight starters per team.