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Tour de France

Sagan forgotten ahead of Tour with Contador star burning bright

Peter Sagan will have to play second-fiddle to Alberto Contador as the Tinkoff-Saxo team is solely focused on the battle for yellow jersey

UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) — Behind Alberto Contador and a yellow canary, Peter Sagan attracted the least amount of attention from the media Thursday at a Tinkoff-Saxo press conference ahead of the Tour de France.

Press wanted to know about Contador’s form after winning the Giro d’Italia and ahead of an attempt at the Giro/Tour double. They wanted to know what Contador thought of the route and his rivals. Photographers pushed forward to have a shot of the king of the grand tours with a yellow canary that Dutch journalists presented to him.

Sagan sat to the right of Contador. When asked if they had questions for him, journalists queried Contador more about his preparation and the meaning of winning the double. Later, Sagan received questions, but his short and vague answers discouraged more inquires.

“Peter is happy he is here and to help Alberto [Contador],” Tinkoff-Saxo’s sport director, Steven de Jongh said when asked how it must be difficult for a star cyclist to sit in a packed room and receive little attention. “Journalists come here for Alberto because he’s trying to achieve something great.”

Tinkoff-Saxo signed the 25-year-old Slovak on a three-year contract over the winter from Italy’s now-defunct Cannondale team. Owner Oleg Tinkov reportedly agreed to pay Sagan $4.5 million annually.

Sagan, after coming second in Milano-Sanremo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, and running clear in many other one-day races like Gent-Wevelgem, was seen as cycling’s new god. His former team even talked about a day when he could switch from racing for stages and the green jersey to winning the Tour de France.

Around mid-season in 2014, though, the Saganator appeared to switch off. He bagged a third points jersey in the Tour, but went nine months, from the national championships until the sixth stage in the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico this March, without raising his arms in victory.

Sagan bounced back slightly with two stages and the overall win in the Tour of California and two more stage victories in the Tour de Suisse, but it did not make up for his flop in the classics this spring. Tinkov, when asked about Sagan’s big-dollar contract in an exclusive interview at the Giro, told VeloNews, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

At the Tour, Sagan will have little space to make amends for the classics.

“The most important thing is the yellow jersey,” de Jongh added. “If Alberto [Contador] needs help in the final, he’s there to help Alberto in the final. If Peter can sprint at the end of the stage and win, that’s nice and a bonus, but we aren’t going to pull for sprints.

“He knows that on this team there’s Alberto, and there’s this great opportunity to win the double, [he] knew this before the start of the season.”

The attention remained on Contador for the hour or so that the press had in the team’s hotel on the outskirts of Utrecht, where the Tour starts on Saturday with a time trial. Sagan was left off to the side like the elder child when a family welcomes a new baby. Sagan may be the new arrival in the Tinkoff team, but Contador remains the king and demands the attention, especially when it comes to grand tours.

“I’m also part of the team; I’m not on the side,” Sagan said. “I’m happy, and it’s a pleasure to ride with Alberto [Contador] in the team. I don’t feel alone, we have a good group.”

When a small group of journalists circled Sagan after the main press conference, he had more time to speak but gave answers just as short as before. “If I have a chance, I’ll sprint,” he explained. “We’ll see day by day. For sure, the day with the cobbles, I’ll have to stay by Alberto.”

He said that California and Suisse, and winning another national championship title, helped his confidence ahead of the Tour.

“Compared to last season, I think this season was better,” he said. Asked about Tinkov’s comments and if he feels pressure to perform, he added, “No, it’s just important to do my best for the team and Alberto. I don’t feel pressure.”