Vuelta a Espana

Sagan on the hunt for stage wins at a Vuelta full of opportunities

Peter Sagan returns to the Vuelta for the first time since 2015 hunting stage wins ahead of the world championships

MÁLAGA, Spain (VN) — There’s something odd about this year’s Vuelta a España route — flat stages.

After a string of ever-more-demanding course designs, this year’s course sees nearly a half dozen stages apt for sprinters. Part of that is geography and how the Vuelta is back-loaded with most of the hard stages in the second half. In the first half of the race, there are days that are un-Vuelta flat. And a few them are flat as the plains of the realm of Don Quixote.

That’s just fine for Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who returns to the Vuelta for the first time since 2015. Still recovering from a high-speed crash in the Pyrénées during the Tour de France, the three-time world champion won’t mind a few days on the plains of Spain.

“I hope to win some stages,” Sagan said ahead of Saturday’s Vuelta start. “I am not at my best form yet.”

Sagan, 28, returns to the Vuelta in a quest to bolster his career haul of four stage wins, with the additional hope of honing his form ahead of the Innsbruck worlds.

On paper, the climb-heavy route in Austria doesn’t favor Sagan for what would be an unprecedented fourth consecutive world title, but last month Bora-Hansgrohe officials said he is going to “honor” the rainbow jersey to at least give it a stab.

The way Sagan was climbing during the Tour suggested he was taking the challenge more seriously than he had hinted. A very nasty crash in the Pyrénées changed all that. Sagan misjudged a corner and bounded off course in stage 17. He rode away with some heavy cuts and bruises, but he was lucky to avoid more serious injury.

“I am still not at 100 percent,” Sagan said referring to the Tour crash. “I’m hoping to be stronger.”

As the Vuelta has become progressively more difficult the past several editions, fewer and fewer sprinters have included it in their schedule. Sagan steered clear of the Vuelta over the past few years in part to chase WorldTour points at the Canadian one-days. He’s back this year and will see some competition in the bunch sprints.

The Vuelta can present easy pickings for a rider who boasts top finishing speed who normally wouldn’t be winning a typical bunch sprint against the fastest in the peloton. Last year, Matteo Trentin — who is more Peter Sagan than Mark Cavendish — won four stages.

This year’s route sees a few more chances than of late for the fast men in the bunch. Between a handfull of uphill punchier finales and flatter terrain, there could be as many as eight sprint scenarios depending on how much the bunch wants to control breakaways.

That’s a lot by recent Vuelta standards.

Elia Viviani (Quick-Step) is atop a still very thin list that also includes Trentin, Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).

For Sagan, the road to Innsbruck goes through the Vuelta. And having the colorful character back on Spanish roads is just what the Vuelta needed to help spice up those flat stages.