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Why Peter Sagan chose the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia over cobbled classics

Peter Sagan downplayed speculation of leaving the Giro d'Italia early to start Paris-Roubaix; said road worlds unlikely if race stays in Switzerland.

Peter Sagan gave his word to Giro d’Italia organizers that he would race the “corsa rosa” in 2020, and he’s going to live up to it.

Bora-Hansgrohe confirmed Tuesday that Sagan will race the Tour de France and Giro as his top goals in cycling’s new abbreviated calendar, meaning he will miss out on the northern classics. Races such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix overlap with the Giro’s new October dates, meaning that the three-time world champion will miss the northern classics for the first time in a decade.

“It’s difficult to miss some races,” Sagan said Tuesday. “We already did the presentation of the Giro and we shook hands with RCS, and we give our word with [team manager] Ralph Denk and me to RCS that we are going to do the Giro. We want to keep it like that. I am going to start there.”

Sagan’s quandary is one of the most glaring cases of how the coronavirus and cycling’s revamped calendar is impacting elite men’s racing. Sagan is undoubtedly one of the peloton’s biggest stars, and is one of the top favorites in the grueling and wildly popular one-day races in Belgium and France.

Although he’s won stages at the both the Tour and Vuelta a España, Sagan has never raced the Giro. He had hoped that his planned Giro debut would have still allowed him to race the northern classics in 2020, but the world pandemic changed all that. Once he was committed to the Giro, he said he wasn’t going to go back on his word.

“In this period that we are living, we have to make different decisions that what was planned before,” Sagan said in a conference call with journalists. “All the schedule is different now. If it was like it was before, it was no problem. The season will be short and intense. You cannot have everything in this world. Sometimes we have to make some decisions.”

Without Flanders or Roubaix, Sagan said Strade Bianche — his first scheduled race on August 1 — and Milano-Sanremo, the monument he’s never won but has hit the podium, will be his new one-day targets. Even there he played down expectations.

“The Tour and the Giro are my main goals,” Sagan said. “It’s going to be hard enough to do two grand tours in two and a half months, so my goals come later. If I am feeling good at Strade Bianche, maybe I can try something. The same goes at San Remo. I’d like to win that race, but I am using the first races as preparation for the Tour and Giro.”

Sagan shrugged off a suggestion that he could ask the UCI for special dispensation to leave the Giro early that would allow him to race Paris-Roubaix, set to run on October 25, the final stage of the Giro. Rules state that a rider cannot quit one race early in order to start another, but with the Giro’s final week littered with brutal climbs in northern Italy, there has been some speculation that Sagan could get the green light to leave the Giro in time to race Roubaix.

Sagan also said he’s uncommitted to the UCI world championships, especially if they remain on the climber-heavy route in the Swiss Alps. That could change if the worlds might be moved to the Middle East as an alternative if Swiss officials balk at the worlds, but Sagan said he likely will not race the worlds which come sandwiched between the end of the Tour and the start of the Giro.

Like everyone else, Sagan spent nearly a month in lockdown in his Monaco apartment. As restrictions eased, he was able to visit his son, Marlon, who lives nearby with his mother, and resume training outdoors. Sagan said he actually lost weight during the lockdown, knocking about two pounds off his racing weight, and joined his teammates this week in the Austrian Alps for the first of two training camps he’ll do before racing in August.

“We don’t know what to expect,” Sagan said of a return to racing. “For sure it will be different. There should be enough time to prepare for the races. We will have almost three months and some races before the Tour, so it will almost be normal. But it will be strange for everybody.”

Sagan said he’s undergone a battery of health tests, including a COVID-19 and antibody test, before  being cleared to join his teammates at the training camp. He said he’s never felt any symptoms of being infected, and expects more controls for the peloton entourage ahead of racing, and doesn’t worry too much about possible risks or exposure to the coronavirus.

“That’s not my decision to make,” Sagan said of health regulations. “I can only take the situation how it is. They have to make some rules of what we can do, what instruction we have to do for health and protect ourselves, or if they have to close the roads for spectators. They have to think about that, not me. I have to think about performing well.”

Sagan said a possible absence of fans along the road — the so-called “racing behind closed doors” — would have little or no impact on the outcome of the race.

“For sure it’s going to be more sad,” he said if fans are not allowed. “Nothing is going to change if spectators are not allowed to see us on the road. For sure, it’s less risk that somebody can have some accident with the people, but for sure it won’t change our performance.”

Sagan, like many of his peers in the peloton, simply wants to get back to racing.

“We are happy to return to our lives like before,” he said. “I would have preferred to have stayed with the normal season. We had already done many training camps and sacrifices to be ready for the classics. Everything has changed, and we must adjust ourselves to a different calendar. It was not ‘normal life’ to be closed in an apartment for one month. We want to get back to normal, back to racing.”