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Peter Sagan: ‘Winning UCI Gravel Worlds would be an immense honor and privilege’

'Van der Poel is a very strong rider but, in my view, you should never underestimate anyone, especially in a world championship,' Sagan tells VeloNews.

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Peter Sagan heads to Veneto, Italy, for the UCI Gravel World Championships this weekend, with the veteran all-rounder seeking a fifth world title.

The 32-year-old finished seventh at the recent UCI road worlds and after a mini-break to Japan for a Specialized event, he’s back in Italy for the men’s elite race Sunday. Sagan will be one of the main riders to watch in the inaugural UCI event and he is taking his usual competitive nature into the race.

“Since I started riding competitively when I’m at the start line of a race, any race, I am there to do my best,” he told VeloNews.

“I don’t go to a race just for the sake of it, I go to be as competitive as I can. If you know you gave your absolute best that day, you will be able to accept the result, whatever it might be. I’m feeling well but, as always, my form will be seen during the race.”

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Sagan admits that he hasn’t done any specific training for the 194km race. Just like many of the athletes on the elite men’s start list, he will fall back on his late-season form.

It’s unclear whether the presence of so many road riders will affect the tactics of the race but Sagan will take it in his stride.

“I didn’t do any specific training just for this race after the world championship in Australia. I did ride my road bike, as usual, but nothing else specifically targeting the gravel worlds,” he said.

“But it’s difficult to know in advance how the race will play out, especially since this is the first-ever world championship in this discipline. The only thing that I’m sure of is that I will give my best and try to achieve the best result possible as I do in every race.”

The pre-race favorite is undoubtedly Mathieu van der Poel. He may not have raced much or any gravel specific races in the past but his mountain bike and cyclocross pedigree is well-known.

After his disastrous road worlds, the Dutch rider is many people’s tip for the men’s rainbow jersey but Sagan is experienced enough to know that surprises can come in many forms, especially when this is the first edition of the race.

“Mathieu is, certainly, a very strong rider but, in my view, you should never underestimate anyone, especially in a world championship,” Sagan said.

“I have always believed that and it has been my approach to all races, big and small. I respect every rider that takes part and never single out anyone. Someone that isn’t among the ‘favorites’ might be the strongest and smartest that day and upend conventional wisdom.”

With three elite men’s road world title and a junior mountain bike cross-country rainbow jersey from his early days, Sagan will be looking for a fifth gold medal this weekend.

“No matter what sport or discipline you compete in, becoming a world champion will always be an incredible achievement, a milestone in your career. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first one or whether you have already been crowned king of the world, the gold medal in a world championship is special. However, I’d like to set the record straight, I have four world champion titles in cycling, in two disciplines,” he said.

“My three consecutive world championship victories in men’s road racing are certainly the ones almost everybody remembers but in 2008, in Val di Sole, I took my first-ever world championship, in junior cross-country. So, I have a total of four world champion titles, which by the way were all on a Specialized bike. However, as I said, if I’m successful this weekend, winning the rainbow jersey will be an immense honor and privilege.”

Should he come away with the win Sagan may race in a number of gravel events in 2023. He has already dipped his toes in the U.S. gravel scene over the last 12 months with an outing at Unbound in June. It’s still too early to think about plans for next year but the veteran rider does enjoy the aspect of giving back to the fans and varying his race program when and where it is ever possible.

“I don’t think my participation in gravel races next year will depend on whether I win or not in this first world championship. It is a discipline I like and a unique opportunity for me to be close to and ride with hundreds or even thousands of fans,” he said.

“Back in June, I took part in the Unbound Gravel race in the USA and it was a fantastic experience. I strongly believe that we, professional riders, should try our best to give back to our fans as much as we can. They are the ones that make this sport so nice. Of course, if I am the world champion, the approach might be different but we’ll have to see. It is still too early to speak about the next season, usually, these decisions are made in December.”