PORTO SANT’ELPIDIO, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan essentially touched the relief valve of the team Tinkoff-Saxo pressure chamber Monday when he won for the first time in nine months. Inside, however, the desire and need for a win — especially a big classic — is still high.
“Pressure? I feel well,” Sagan said after winning the sixth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. “A contract is a contract. I’ve done a lot in four years, it’s not like I’ve come from nowhere to get this contract. You have to merit it.”
In four years, after signing for WorldTeam team Liquigas/Cannondale in 2010, Sagan quickly shot to the top of the cycling world. He won classics like Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke, along with stages and points jerseys at countless stage races — a list that includes four Tour de France stages and three green jerseys.
However, without a win since the Slokavian national championships last June, the pressure appeared to be running high. Tinkoff signed Sagan over the winter for a reported three-year, $12 million deal and certainly wanted more.
Monday’s stage win helped cool the situation. It came after a wet and demanding day through the Le Marche region to the eastern shores of Italy in Porto Sant’Elpido. Many riders had already abandoned, including sprinters Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin).
Sagan survived and won against Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka), a reverse order of the 2013 Milano-Sanremo finish. However, it was not a major win and it left Sagan hungry for more.
“I’m happy to win this stage, but I expect a lot more this season. The team does too,” Sagan said.
“A rider puts the pressure on himself, it does not come from someone else.”
Sagan referred to a Twitter message from his boss and team owner, Oleg Tinkov. Tinkov wrote after the stage finish, “Pressure? Big talent is always under the pressure by himself or/and the God. And if U have multi-million euro contract it makes it even more.”
The same Russian billionaire made similar comments about his grand tour rider Alberto Contador after a dismal showing at the 2013 Tour de France.
This is the latest Sagan ever went into a season before collecting a victory. He placed second four times and crashed in the Tour of Qatar thus far.
“I don’t know what to say, it was bad always placing second,” Sagan said. “I always wanted to win. I’ve had 15 second places since the last win? That’s a lot. It would’ve been good to change those with first places.”
Tinkov likely will hope that the Tirreno-Adriatico stage victory kicks off a flurry of Sagan wins that also includes the upcoming monuments. On the immediate horizon, Sagan will race Milano-Sanremo this Sunday.
“I expect him to be up there in the big races,” team manager Bjarne Riis said. “I want to see him compete against the best.”