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When news leaked this summer that cycling’s biggest star was heading to Bora – Hansgrohe, my initial reaction was, huh?
At first glance, it didn’t make sense at all. Without question, Peter Sagan is cycling’s most marketable rider right now, and it seemed reasonable that a larger platform via an established, WorldTour team would be the better fit. Not only would a mega-team have the checkbook to deliver cycling’s biggest paycheck, but the sport’s biggest star would shine brighter on one on the sport’s biggest teams, right?
Well, as it turns out, Sagan very much made the right choice with Bora on many levels. Here’s why:
For the first time of his career, Sagan will be the gravitational center of a team. No more sharing the spotlight with the likes of Alberto Contador or Vincenzo Nibali. Sure, there are other riders at Bora, with Rafal Majka and Leopold König to carry team colors in the grand tours, but make no mistake, this is Team Sagan. Every major star deserves and eventually gets to have nearly an entire team at his disposal. Despite interest from some of the sport’s biggest teams, Sagan went with his gut and, with his blockbuster deal with the German squad, has found a place to build his legacy.
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SAGAN: “The reason was very easy, because this was really the one team who was interested in me. Everybody was just speaking, speaking, speaking, and didn’t do nothing. I like the people who just do not speak, but who are doing the things they want. I spoke with a lot of teams, but everybody was … blah, blah, blah.”
At 26, Sagan is at the height of his powers, and his move to Bora should see him blossom even more, if that’s even possible to imagine. Unhindered by the shackles of co-leadership, Sagan will be entering the best years of his career with a team built entirely around his brawny legs and flowing locks. Following his slow boil as cycling’s prodigy, Sagan enjoyed a tremendous 13-month, coming-of-age plotline, bookended by two world titles, with a Tour of Flanders, a fifth straight green jersey and an Olympic mountain bike romp stacked up in between. What more is possible? A Giro d’Italia stage win, a Paris-Roubaix, or a Milano-Sanremo title are about the only things missing from his palmares.
SAGAN: “This is going to be a big adventure for all of us. You still have to train on the bike, and pedaling; cycling is like that. The goals stay the same.”
There was some grumbling that Bora might not be up to the task at the organizational level to handle a star as big as Sagan, but those worries are largely unfounded. Team manager Ralph Denk patiently built the organization, racing at the Continental level for 2010 and the Pro Continental ranks since 2011. The team’s already raced three editions of the Tour de France as well as consistent presence across the spring classics. Specialized also brings its years of experience and expertise to the table. And a key face-to-face meeting between Denk and Sagan in Monaco this summer helped seal the deal and develop the mutual trust between manager and rider. So it won’t be as if Sagan is joining a brand-new organization that would have inevitable growing pains. The team expanded its staffing and roster to give Sagan all the back-room support he needs. Sagan and the team are ready for each other.
DENK: “This is a big moment for me and our team. It was also bit stressful, but we are working hard to bring our project forward. We are growing as an organization, growing from 40 to almost 80 employees, and I think this is necessary for this project.”
More support than ever
Sagan will see all the front-line support he needs for his major goals (some would argue he hardly needs any help at all). He brought along his brother, Juraj, and seven other former Tinkoff teammates with him in the move, meaning he is already feeling very much at home despite the new jersey. Sagan also insisted on bringing Maciej Bodnar, one of Sagan’s closest friends and confidantes, with him from Tinkoff. Other key pickups include experienced classics hand Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing) and sprinter Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling), who will also help across the season. Since he won’t be sharing the team with the likes of Contador or Nibali, Sagan will have even more support in his key races than he’s ever had before.
SAGAN: “The ambiance within the team is very good, and I almost feel like I have not changed teams. I don’t feel like a new guy.”
Change is good
Sagan has been an unstoppable force the past two seasons, and some wonder if he will be able to keep surpassing himself. Switching to Bora comes at the right time for Sagan because it provides new responsibilities as well as needed stability. He hasn’t hinted at how long he might race — and he’s not been shy that he’d like to try to become the Arnold Schwarzenegger of cycling — but there is the risk that Sagan might actually become bored with the pressures that come with winning. Change brings new energy and new challenges, so it’s up to Sagan to step up. This is Sagan’s team, and though he won’t win everything, but he will have everything he needs to try.
DENK: “I think Sagan is a big personality in the peloton, and I see him as the same level as Froome or Contador. In the past, the GC rider was always a bigger star. So for Sagan to have the same popularity as the GC star is impressive.”